The competition: Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Ruth Negga (Loving), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Emma Stone (La La Land), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)
Previous winners: Brie Larson, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Sandra Bullock, Kate Winslet
My winner: To be announced soon!
The facts: This category is not shaping up the way I – and many others – expected. Portman started off strong with a win at the Critics Choice Awards, where all these nominees save for Streep contended. Huppert took home the Golden Globe for Drama, and Stone, who won the Globe for Comedy, beat out Portman without Huppert in the running at SAG. Given the momentum of Stone’s film and the lack of any enthusiasm post-Globes for Huppert’s, I think she may still be ahead. Stone has one previous nomination from 2014, while Portman has two, including a win in this category in 2010 for “Black Swan” (which also means she’s already been rewarded). Huppert and Negga are both first-time nominees, and this is Streep’s astounding twentieth nomination. She was won three times, in 1979, 1982, and 2012. If she wins this year, which is in no way likely, she’ll tie Katharine Hepburn as the most-awarded performer in Oscar history. Stone’s film is the only one up for Best Picture. Portman’s film and Streep’s are both up for Best Costume Design, and Portman’s also contends for Best Original Score.
Who should win: I haven’t made my own list yet, but Huppert and Stone would both definitely be at the top of it. I don’t think this is a Streep performance that needs to be honored here, and while I did like Negga, hers wasn’t one of the very best of the year. Portman’s is just like Helen Mirren in “The Queen,” an extraordinary act of imitation but not the strongest all-around turn of the year in this category.
Who will win: Given the energy for “La La Land,” which could well find itself snubbed in the top race due to backlash, I think that Stone is the heavy frontrunner here and shouldn’t have much of a problem winning. I think Huppert scoring would be great, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. It’s also possible that Portman surges and ends up ahead.