Premature predictions: Best Actress

The recent Oscars, it should be said, were not a headline year for the Best Actress race. Of course Emmanuelle Riva, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence et al were thoroughly deserving of their nominations, but the category was generally deemed to be a bit thin by Oscar watchers, with something of a dearth of good female roles, bar the five that were nominated (plus a handful of others overlooked by the Academy, like Marion Cotillard in "Rust and Bone" and Emayatzy Corinealdi in "Middle of Nowhere").

But looking ahead to the potentials for 2014, as we already have this week with Best Picture and Best Actor, the story's quite different. On paper, anyway, it looks to be a fiercely competitive year, with a number of legendary actresses in parts that seem tailor-made for awards buzz...if our guesswork is correct. While our other long-distance predictions were fairly reasonable a year ago, Best Actress was something of a disaster, with none of our predictions ending up with nominations. But we're certainly more confident of things this time around. To see what we're predicting, take a look below, and you can make your own guesses in the comments section.

Strong Contenders

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep - "August Osage County"
Meryl Streep, playing a character with cancer, in an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, produced by George Clooney and Harvey Weinstein? What do you think is going to happen? Of course, the more interesting question is whether her win in 2012 for "The Iron Lady" will have any impact on how much of a contender she'll be, or if voters will want to award fresh blood. Could she tie Katherine Hepburn for four Oscars? Or will the Academy feel that she's had her moment, at least for the next few years?

Sandra Bullock - "Gravity"
Like Robert Redford in "All Is Lost," which we wrote about yesterday, Sandra Bullock is fighting for survival mostly solo in Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity." In this case, she's an an astronaut stranded when her spacecraft and space station are destroyed. On the page, it's a very different kind of role for Bullock, and given that she has to carry most of the film on her shoulders, it's a part that should get her a lot of attention. The risk is that the effects and spectacle end up overshadowing her, but given that Bullock's a recent winner, and that the part's a good one, this is a definite possibility.

Grace Of Monaco Nicole Kidman
Nicole Kidman - "Grace Of Monaco"
The Best Actress category luurves biopics; 9 of the last 15 winners have played real-life figures. And there's a trio of possibilities that look incredibly strong. First up, 2003 winner Nicole Kidman, who's playing a great icon of cinema in "Grace of Monaco," in the shape of Hitchcock-favorite turned European princess Grace Kelly. The film sounds a little dry (it apparently revolves around her role in the feud between her husband and French president Charles De Gaulle in the 1960s), but Kidman's a voter favorite, and as Cate Blanchett proved in "The Aviator," playing a great actress can be a quick shortcut to a nomination. Plus, director Olivier Dahan won Marion Cotillard her Oscar for "La Vie En Rose."

Diana Naomi Watts
Naomi Watts - "Diana"
Of course, there's another princess who may not let Kidman walk straight toward the trophy. Naomi Watts is playing Princess Diana in the aptly-titled "Diana," directed by Olivier Hirschbiegel. The film, like "Grace of Monaco," seems to take a more focused approach, dealing not with her semi-arranged marriage to Prince Charles, or its subsequent collapse, but her romance with surgeon Dr. Hasnat Khan, and her work campaigning against landmines. We've expressed our doubts about the film already, but only a fool would bet against the power of Watts playing one of the world's most iconic women (and looking so much like her while she does it). Plus, unlike our other tips in this category, she's never won despite two nominations, so may be seen as due in a way that her fellow nominees in the category are not.

Emma Thompson - “Saving Mr. Banks”
She might have two Oscars, but it's getting on twenty years since Emma Thompson was last nominated for an Academy Award. But with her profile increasing again in recent years, the time feels right for a return, and she's got a major role in "Saving Mr. Banks," John Lee Hancock's film about the making of "Mary Poppins." Of the two lead roles in Kelly Marcel's script, Poppins author P.L. Travers is definitely the meatiest; she's amusingly grouchy and tough, with her relationship with her alcoholic father serving as the script's emotional backbone. Meryl Streep turned the part down: but could she grow to regret it come Oscar night?