Will and should win:
Role: Judy Garland in the dissolute last year of her life.
In her favor: Zellweger reins in her trademark squint in a remarkable metamorphosis that captures Garland’s heartbreaking vulnerability, if not her spectacular voice. She even sells an over-the-top “Over the Rainbow.” (Globes winner/S/B)
Then again: The film itself is maddeningly uneven, with ill-conceived flashbacks that distract from what we came to see.
Role: Araminta Ross, the woman who became slave liberator Harriet Tubman.
In her favor: Erivo is a quiet, steely, spiritual presence, tiny in stature but mighty in will. It’s a tour de force, almost biblical achievement; finally, audiences saw the powerhouse who’s better known for her prowess on the Broadway stage. (G/S)
Then again: She might have gotten lost in the trappings of a standard biopic.
Role: Nicole Barber, an actress who initiates divorce proceedings against her husband.
In her favor: Earnest and relatable, she can make clunkers like “I was only feeding his aliveness!” believable. Even as she’s eviscerating her soon-to-be-ex, the spark of lingering affection plays across her open face. It’s a complex performance, as powerful in the small scenes as the big ones. (G/S/B)
Then again: The early buzz on the film has died down.
Role: Jo March, the beating heart of a Civil War-era family of sisters.
In her favor: Ronan has never been more radiant; she brims with fierce intelligence and just-right modernity. Her self-doubt and stubborn righteousness coexist appealingly, breathing new life into a well-loved character we thought we knew. (G/B)
Then again: This Jo isn’t as front-and-center as previous versions.
Role: Fox News personality Megyn Kelly.
In her favor: Theron has pulled off an uncanny feat that relies not only on prosthetics but voice and bearing. She makes you feel Kelly’s anguish over her role in the network’s dirty secrets, no matter your opinion going in. (G/S/B)
Then again: She had the bad timing to compete in the real-person sweepstakes against Renée Zellweger.
Missed the cut
Role: Billi Wang, an empathetic granddaughter fighting old-world customs.
Why she deserved a nod: You thought she was only a comic actress? She displays a melancholy side here, putting her raspy voice and hunched posture to charming effect. Her exasperated affection for her family feels real. (Globes winner)
Then again: She spends a lot of time sitting on beds, staring into the silent void.