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July 17, 2015 |  Date Modified: July 17, 2015 |  1444 Views
Young And In Charge:

This year's men are packed into the Best Actor race like sardines, but don't discount the women: There are a surfeit of commendable female performances in play, from a Reese Witherspoon comeback to potential first nods for Shailene Woodley and Kristen Stewart to super-duper long shots like Angelina Jolie and Kristen Wiig. Here are 20 contenders -- including two Jessica Chastain performances -- vying for a Best Actress nod between now and Jan. 15, when Oscar nominations are announced.




Keira Knightley, "Begin Again"


Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP
This next spot could easily belong to Helen Mirren's haughty French chef in "The Hundred-Foot Journey," but we'll give a slight edge to Keira Knightley for playing a burgeoning singer-songwriter in "Begin Again." Like Jolie, the Globes might be her best bet, but it doesn't really matter: Knightley's supporting turn in "The Imitation Game" nearly guarantees she'll score an Oscar nod next year. -- MJ




Kristen Stewart, "Camp X-Ray"


Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
When “Camp X-Ray” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Variety likened Kristen Stewart’s performance to Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning turn in “The Silence of the Lambs.” The “Twilight” actress is having something of a moment thanks to several dramatic roles on the docket this year, but it’s her portrayal of a soldier stationed at Guantanamo Bay that gives her Best Actress clout. She’s pulling double duty, though, as Sony Pictures Classics has already stated it’ll stage a Best Supporting Actress push for Stewart’s “Still Alice” performance. -- MJ




Kristen Wiig, "The Skeleton Twins"


Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
Kristen Wiig has drifted toward the dramatic realm as of late, to decidedly mixed results. Following the middling reviews that befell “Friends with Kids,” “Girl Most Likely,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “Hateship, Loveship,” Wiig drew her strongest praise for Sundance breakout “The Skeleton Twins.” She plays Bill Hader’s estranged sister who takes him in after a botched suicide attempt. The movie is “Little Miss Sunshine” meets “Garden State,” which sounds awards-friendly enough, except that most of its splashier moments belong to Hader (who would be part of the Best Actor conversation were that category not so overcrowded). -- MJ




Scarlett Johansson, "Under the Skin"


John Shearer/Invision/AP
Released all the way back in April (after making the festival rounds in 2013), "Under the Skin" is but a distant memory in the awards race. But Johansson's performance was heavily praised last spring, and it feels like she's due to break into the awards race in a major way during one of these years. It probably won't happen in 2014, but like many of her peers on this list, a Spirit Award nod likely awaits. -- Christopher Rosen




Gugu Mbatha-Raw, "Beyond the Lights"


Jonathan Short/Invision/AP
You know who's had a pretty great 2014? Gugu Mbatha-Raw. After winning raves for "Belle" back in the spring, the 31-year-old scored a Gotham Independent Film Award nomination in the Best Actress category for "Beyond the Lights" back in October. That film has Mbatha-Raw playing a singer not unlike Rihanna or Alicia Keys, whose rise to fame coincides with a decline of her own self worth. It's a powerful performance, the kind that actually does deserve some big awards praise, and it signals Mbatha-Raw as one of Hollywood's next great stars. -- CR




Jessica Chastain, "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby"


Arthur Mola/Invision/AP
The premise of “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” -- it’s a breakup story split into three movies: one from the male perspective, one from the female and one that combines the two -- made more of a splash on paper than it did in practice. But the movie earned a 10-minute standing ovation after its Cannes Film Festival premiere, sparking chatter of a strong Weinstein Company awards push for lead stars Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy. The latter doesn’t stand a chance amid this year’s bloated Best Actor race, but Chastain won the movie’s strongest praise when the dual-perspective cut opened to tepid reception in September. -- MJ




Marion Cotillard, "Two Days, One Night"


Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP /Invision/AP
As a depressed factory worker who loses her job and then spends the next 48 hours trying to convince her former co-workers to vote for her to retain the work at the expense of their bonuses, Marion Cotillard flashes a whole bunch of emotions in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's "Two Days, One Night." It's a performance that's raw and stripped down, and Cotillard is really quite excellent throughout. But will enough Oscar voters sit through the slow-moving foreign-language film long enough to make her a viable contender? -- CR




Anne Hathaway, "Interstellar"


Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
Of all the surprises in "Interstellar," one of the biggest might be the size of Anne Hathaway's role. She's the female lead and, outside of Matthew McConaughey, the famous face with the largest amount of screen time. (Not that anyone would know that based on the film's marketing campaign, which has kept Hathaway relatively hidden.) She plays an astronaut named Amelia Brand (a possible Amelia Earhart reference?) in "Interstellar," and acquits herself well amid all the black holes and dad tears. The problems are that Hathaway's character is relatively lacking in real depth, and her one big scene has proved polarizing among critics. (We were fans, but your mileage will definitely vary.) -- CR




Emily Blunt, "Into the Woods"


Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP /Invision/AP
Disney didn’t have much success bandying “Saving Mr. Banks” into last year’s Oscar race (including lead actress Emma Thompson), but this time around the studio has Stephen Sondheim and "Chicago" director Rob Marshall to provide added momentum. Whether that’s enough to land Emily Blunt her first nomination will soon be seen, as “Into the Woods” just revved up its press cycle with a buzzy set of Entertainment Weekly covers, a new trailer offering full glimpses of the cast singing and character posters that move. -- MJ




Hilary Swank, "The Homesman"


Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
Disney didn’t have much success bandying “Saving Mr. Banks” into last year’s Oscar race (including lead actress Emma Thompson), but this time around the studio has Stephen Sondheim and "Chicago" director Rob Marshall to provide added momentum. Whether that’s enough to land Emily Blunt her first nomination will soon be seen, as “Into the Woods” just revved up its press cycle with a buzzy set of Entertainment Weekly covers, a new trailer offering full glimpses of the cast singing and character posters that move. -- MJ

Amy Adams, "Big Eyes"


TIMOTHY A. CLARY via Getty Images
Like Julianne Moore, Amy Adams is a fixture of the “She’s Been Robbed!” gong that’s banged for many great stars who’ve never won Oscars. Adams has acquired five nominations in less than a decade and seems poised to earn her sixth for portraying Margaret Keane, whose husband (played by Christoph Waltz) took credit for her beloved paintings of wide-eyed children. Only two actors have ever been nominated for Tim Burton movies (Martin Landau in “Ed Wood” and Johnny Depp in “Sweeney Todd”), but The Weinstein Company seems to have faith in “Big Eyes,” slotting it for a Christmas Day opening. -- MJ




Felicity Jones, "The Theory of Everything"


Jason LaVeris via Getty Images
"Formidable" is how Eddie Redmayne described Felicity Jones, and he's right. She's so good in "The Theory of Everything" that it's Redmayne, he of one of the year's true transformative performances as Dr. Stephen Hawking, who must keep up. Jones has been on the cusp of an Oscar nomination for a little while (she was briefly discussed as a contender last year for "The Invisible Woman"), but it's "The Theory of Everything" that feels like her coronation. In a year of great performances, hers is one of the best. -- CR




Rosamund Pike, "Gone Girl"


Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
No movie this fall has been more closely examined than “Gone Girl,” and Rosamund Pike is, by most accounts, the movie’s standout performer. Even though she’s been acting for more than a decade (she was a Bond girl!), Pike may be the closest this category comes to spotlighting a relative newcomer. That narrative worked for another heavily scrutinized David Fincher movie in 2011 when Rooney Mara earned “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s” steadiest praise as well as its sole top-tier Oscar nod. -- MJ




Reese Witherspoon, "Wild"


John Shearer/Invision/AP

As Cheryl Strayed in "Wild," Reese Witherspoon is dynamic, charismatic, heartbreaking and so very human. It's the kind of performance that wins Oscars even without a compelling off-screen narrative. But Witherspoon has one of those as well: Like Matthew McConaughey last year, Witherspoon is a Hollywood icon turned reclamation project, and that kind of comeback story is catnip to Oscar voters. (The only problem here is that Witherspoon already won an Oscar in 2005; McConaughey had no trophies on his mantle.) It helps, too, that "Wild" could become a movie many voters rally behind, as it's one of the few Oscar contenders with a woman at the center. Start buying stock in the Reesurgence right now. -- CR




Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"


Andy Kropa /Invision/AP
Before "Still Alice" premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Oscar chatter around Julianne Moore was focused on "Maps to the Stars." But with that polarizing film putting Moore in a tweener position (is she a lead or supporting player?), "Still Alice" has taken up the discussion. Glowing reviews of her performance made Moore an overnight frontrunner, and -- as of now -- she looks positioned to win her first Oscar for her portrayal of a linguistics professor struggling with the early stages of Alzheimer’s. (If it's anything like Julie Christie's beautiful work in "Away From Her," we're in.) Moore has a lot going for her here: She’s left the Oscars empty-handed four times, “Still Alice” is based on a novel that spent more than 40 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and playing characters with illnesses has benefited a few actresses in the past, including Jessica Lange and Holly Hunter. -- MJ



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