Kate Winslet - "Labor Day"
This is one of the cases where we'd be more confident in the possibility if we knew for sure what category Winslet was going to be in: after all, the six-time nominated actress hasn't had a nod since she won for 'The Reader" in 2009, and playing an agoraphobic character in a team-up with Jason Reitman, who saw Ellen Page and Anna Kendrick to the ceremony, would seem to be a no-brainer. But Winslet's role is a secondary one to the character of her son, which means it could qualify as a Supporting Performance. Given that the same was true of her performance in "The Reader," we think that Paramount may end up campaigning her in lead, but it's very much up in the air this far off. Still, whichever category she ends up in, she's definitely a contender.
Once touted as the potential winner of Best Actress for "Zero Dark Thirty," Jessica Chastain ultimately was beaten out by Jennifer Lawrence this year. But Chastain, like her comrade, is going to be an Academy fixture for a long time to come, and like Lawrence, hasn't taken her foot off the accelerator, with more roles on the way in 2013. The one we've got our eye on is "The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Her." The twist here, and the potential difficulty with it, is that it's one of two movies (the other being "The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: His") that will premiere simultaneously, detailing the dissolution of a relationship, with James McAvoy playing the other party. The films, directed by newcomer Ned Benson, have attracted an impressive cast including Viola Davis, William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert, and seem to be very much a showcase for the two leads. We're assuming that 'Her' is the more Chastain-centric of the two, but will the two-film structure risk splitting votes between the pair? Or will whoever ends up distributing the film be able to unify voters behind just one? Either way, it's one of the more interesting possibilities of the 2014 Oscar season.
Elizabeth Olsen - "Therese Raquin"
Despite her phenomenal performance, Elizabeth Olsen failed to get an Oscar nomination in 2012 for her head-turning breakthrough in "Martha Marcy May Marlene." The films she signed on to after her initial success are starting to come through the pipeline, and while her performance in "Kill Your Darlings" probably isn't significant enough to factor into the season, there are other possibilities. There's a chance that her role in the "Oldboy" remake might qualify in the Best Actress category, but we'd put more weight on "Therese Raquin." An adaptation of the classic novel by Emile Zola, it's essentially a sort of 19th century film noir, with Olsen as the title character, who has an affair with a friend (Oscar Isaac) of her sickly husband (Tom Felton), before the pair decide to bump off the ailing spouse. It's a killer part (ha), one that should really give Olsen the chance to show her range, and the cast (which also includes Jessica Lange) is strong, but with the film being directed by TV helmer Charlie Stratton, we do wonder how much of an impact it'll make. But if Olsen is as fierce in the role as we imagine she could be, it's not one that should be overlooked.
We're thinking of "Decoding Annie Parker" somewhat as this year's equivalent to "The Sessions," in part because it has Helen Hunt in a major role. The feature directorial debut of "Monster" cinematographer Steven Bernstein, it sees Hunt play Mary-Claire King, a geneticist trying to research breast cancer, and Annie Parker, who watched her mother and sister die of the disease, and was diagnosed with it too, aiding King in her research in the process. Hunt might be one to watch as well, but it's really Samantha Morton we've got our eye on here. The actress has two nominations, but hasn't had one since 2004, and has the kind of part that awards voters swoon for here. It might sound like a Lifetime movie on paper, but Morton's likely to class the joint up, so keep an eye on this one as we get deeper into the festival season.
The "Avatar" star (who arguably deserved a nomination for her motion-capture performance in James Cameron's film) has taken a while to capitalize on her success in that and "Star Trek," but 2013 looks to be a big year for her -- not only is she back for "Star Trek Into Darkness," but she's also got supporting roles in "Blood Ties" and "Out of the Furnace." And we reckon she's got a chance at an Oscar run in another biopic, "Nina," in which Saldana plays the great singer Nina Simone. The independent film and directorial debut of "The Brave One" writer Cynthia Mort, the film is something of an unknown quantity at this point, and it's already been the subject of controversy due to Saldana's casting; she's lighter-skinned than Simone, and has been wearing makeup to split the difference, resulting in outrage from some quarters. Will her near-unrecognizable appearance do her favors, a la Charlize Theron or Nicole Kidman in their Oscar-winning roles? Or will it make the performance a non-starter? We'll see later in the year -- we're betting the film debuts at TIFF.
Also Worth Considering: There's the possibility that Amy Adams will end up in this category for David O. Russell's latest film, but we think that she's more likely to go supporting again, and the same is probably true of Carey Mulligan in "The Great Gatsby" and "Inside Llewyn Davis," sight unseen. Besides them, there's also Oprah Winfrey in "The Butler," Hilary Swank in "You're Not You," Reese Witherspoon in "Devil's Knot," Julie Delpy in "Before Midnight," Keira Knightley in "Can A Song Save Your Life," Shailene Woodley in "The Spectacular Now," Lindsay Burdge in "A Teacher," Rebecca Hall in "Closed Circuit," Hailee Steinfeld in "Romeo & Juliet," Chloe Moretz in "Carrie," Rooney Mara in "Side Effects," Berenice Bejo in "The Past," Mia Wasikowska in "Tracks" and Saoirse Ronan in "How I Live Now."
And for the record, our precise predictions are...
Sandra Bullock - "Gravity"
Nicole Kidman - "Grace Of Monaco"
Meryl Streep - "August: Osage County"
Emma Thompson - "Saving Mr. Banks"
Naomi Watts - "Diana"