The Next 5
Kristin Scott Thomas ("Suite Française")
Though the novel is a sprawling ensemble tale, it's no secret that "Suite Française" looks to be very much the Michelle Williams show. But that doesn't mean that it's all it has to offer the awards season, particularly it has a ton of top-notch actresses in support -- Eileen Atkins, Ruth Wilson, Margot Robbie and Alexandra Maria Lara (the latter two of whom both gave awards-worthy performances last year, in "The Wolf Of Wall Street" and "Rush" respectively) all feature. But we have a feeling that Kristin Scott Thomas is the one to watch here. Her part, as Williams' spiky mother-in-law, is more promising than some of the others, and the actress has been doing sterling work that's gone unrewarded for a while. Her recent talk of retirement could help or hurt her case, but this is potentially her best chance at a nod in some time.
Carrie Coon ("Gone Girl")
We'll confess that we're also only faintly aware of actress Carrie Coon. But she'll be better known by the end of the year, with a key role in HBO's "The Leftovers" coming up. She is also a Tony nominee (for playing Honey in "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf"), and maybe more importantly, she has a crucial role in David Fincher's "Gone Girl." The actress is playing Margo, the twin sister and confidante of Ben Affleck's character and, from the book anyway, there's more than enough color to the role to make it nominatable. This is a category that can be kind to undersung character actresses (Marcia Gay Harden, Melissa Leo, Amy Ryan), so Coon's definitely someone to keep an eye on.
Brie Larson ("The Gambler")
Brie Larson's absence from this year's Oscar short-list for "Short Term 12" was nothing short of a disgrace. But with the strength of that performance, and of the others she's given, it's only a matter of time before she makes the cut, and the opportunity could arrive in the form of Rupert Wyatt's "The Gambler." A remake of Karel Reisz's 1974 picture (once mooted for Martin Scorsese), it sees Larson play the student of gambling-addict college professor Mark Wahlberg, with whom he's in love, and is probably the most high-profile studio gig yet for the rising actress. The film hasn't yet been dated by Paramount, so it's possible that it falls into next season (then again, the success of "The Wolf Of Wall Street" might see them push it into the awards race), and with Jessica Lange playing Wahlberg's mother, it might be that she supersedes Larson. But for now, we're team Brie.
Jane Fonda ("This Is Where I Leave You")
How divisive is Jane Fonda these days? The 76-year-old star hasn't been forgiven in some quarters for being Hanoi Jane, but that doesn't seem to have made much of a difference to the Academy—of her two Oscars and seven total nominations, one win and five nods came after the end of the Vietnam war, which suggests that AMPAS never really cared about her politics. It's more than 25 years since Fonda was last nominated, but she could have her best chance in a long time thanks to family drama "This Is Where I Leave You," in which she plays the matriarch of a Jewish clan (including Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver and Corey Stoll) gathered together to commemorate the passing of their father. It's the kind of movie that's been tried many times and often doesn't work ("The Family Stone" et al), and the presence of "Date Night" director Shawn Levy in the doesn't suggest this'll be the exception. But the caliber of the cast, Fonda included, might suggest otherwise, and the chance to give her another nomination might be too much for the Academy to resist.
Hailee Steinfeld ("The Homesman")
Four years back, Hailee Steinfeld landed an Oscar nomination, aged only 13, for her outstanding breakout performance in the Coens' "True Grit." So the news that she's literally back on the horse for another Western alone is promising. That she's doing so in one by Tommy Lee Jones, and playing a mentally ill woman being escorted by Jones and Hilary Swank's characters, makes this even more potent a possibility. The film is still under the radar enough that it could turn out that Steinfeld's part isn't "the one" for the project—and of course, the film could yet disappoint. It's also true that Steinfeld's post-'Grit' career choices have mostly disappointed. But between this and TIFF favorite "Can A Song Save Your Life?," she's likely to be more visible than she's been for a while, so this is one to keep an eye on.
Honorable Mentions: Also viable options, so far at least, are Jessica Chastain or Ellen Burstyn for "Interstellar," Keira Knightley for "The Imitation Game," Emma Stone or Naomi Watts for "Birdman," Jena Malone or Katherine Waterston for "Inherent Vice," Annette Bening for "The Search," Rooney Mara for "Trash" and Sarah Paulson for "Carol." Anyone we've forgotten? You know where the comments section is.