Last year, Julianne Moore swept the Oscars and Golden Globes with Still Alice, the poignant drama about a professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. She confronted a pack that included Reese Witherspoon in Wild, Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything, Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, and Jennifer Aniston in Cake. Yet somehow, Tilda Swinton, who appeared in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Snowpiercer, and Only Lovers Left Alive, and a recurring Oscar favorite, failed to receive a nomination, and it's far from the first time a seemingly shoo-in contender hasn't actually earned a nod. In short, no one can say who will or will not be among the nominees come 2016. Still, 2015 has seen some of the finest performances by lead actresses in recent memory, so while predicting the 2016 Best Actress Oscar isn't easy, there's sure to be some tough competition..
Brie Larson has been widely regarded as the frontrunner for her work in Room — she was just nominated for the Golden Globe, and she carries nearly the whole movie, about a young mother who's held captive in an enclosed room while raising her young son, the product of sexual assault by her captor. But who else will be nominated? Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence of Carol and Joy, respectively, are shoo-ins, and Blanchett's co-star Rooney Mara has been campaigned as a supporting actress but received the lead actress nomination for the Golden Globes, so she could end up in that category for the Oscars as well. Here's what the competition might look like.
1. Brie Larson, Room
Brie Larson has had an awesome year, including starring in Room and featuring in a supporting role in Digging for Fire, which made New Yorker critic Richard Brody's list of best films of 2015. And she might be rounding out 2015 with the top acting prize in Hollywood.
2. Cate Blanchett, Carol
Blanchett, Oscar darling that she is, will likely be Larson's toughest competition going into the awards season. Her performance in Carol is vibrant and subtle, and the film itself — and director Todd Haynes — has all the makings of what the Academy seems to love.
3. Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Like Blanchett, Lawrence is an established Oscar favorite, having been honored for Silver Linings Playbook and earning an additional nominee for Winter's Bone, the movie that put her on the map.
4. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Saoirse Ronan's work in Brooklyn should not be underestimated — the young actress is likely to be among the nominees for her performance in the Colm Toíbín adaptation. She probably won't win, but between her most recent role and last year's Grand Budapest Hotel, it's only a matter of time before the one-time Luna Lovegood hopeful takes home top honors.
5. Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
At age 69, Rampling has been in the industry for 50 years and yet the actress has never received a lead actress nomination. 45 Years might be her best shot yet — and it probably doesn't hurt that she's further entered the zeitgeist by appearing in Lena Dunham's Lenny email newsletter.
6. Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
This one's probably aspirational, but Theron was just so good in Mad Max: Fury Road. And it might not be too far off! Predictor site Awards Circuit placed Theron at twelfth among the lead actresses in the running this year. I'm just slightly more optimistic about her chances.
7. Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
Mulligan could get a nomination simply by virtue of being the brightest spot in an otherwise bleak, and kind of bland, movie. Suffragette checks off a lot of typical Oscar-bait boxes (period picture, Meryl Streep, social activism), yet somehow all the elements don't quite come together. Mulligan is radiant, though.
8. Sarah Silverman, I Smile Back
The comedian's searing take in this drama about dealing with depression is enough of a departure from her usual fare, and demonstrates sufficient dramatic range, that she could earn a place among the Best Actress nominees. Yet, by the account of many reviewers, and much like Mulligan, Silverman's performance is the best part of an otherwise rote film, which could hurt her prospects.
9. Lily Tomlin, Grandma
There are some actresses who seem to warrant a spot on the list just by existing. Tomlin is one of them. Her gritty performance in the dramedy Grandma, in which she plays the titular grandma, recalls the kind of acclaimed blend of humor and poignancy that made Jenny Slate's Obvious Child such a hit.
10. Juliette Binoche, Clouds Of Sils Maria
We tend to forget about Binoche and Kristen Stewart's incredible chemistry in Clouds of Sils Maria because it came out fairly early in the year and so many great things have followed. But Binoche is worthy of consideration for the Oscar, even though her chances at a nomination are pretty long.
11. Emily Blunt, Sicario
Part of me hopes this one will earn the nomination just to prove that Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty wasn't a fluke. Women can lead action movies, and they can do it the best.
These aren't necessarily a best-of list; they're more predictions based on the actors' past performances and what the Academy has seemed to love in the past. Though the first five are all but set on nominations, there's always the possibility that the Academy decides to throw us for a loop. Your winner is somewhere in here.
Image: The Weinstein Company