Best Actress in a Leading Role
Winner: Emma Stone (La La Land)
1. Emma Stone (La La Land)
If Ryan Gosling encapsulates the debonair charm of La La Land, Stone embodies the raw energy required to realize dreams. With a raspy voice and a knack for choreography, the actress' work on the musical arrives to voters coated with nostalgia, making her an easy and obvious pick. After a Golden Globe win, it's hard to imagine Stone will remain "someone in the crowd" after Oscar night.
2. Natalie Portman (Jackie)
Portman taps the same mental anguish vein she did for Black Swan, the psychological drama that earned her an Oscar in this category in 2011, in her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy. The differences are in manner and circumstance -- it's one thing to watch a struggling ballerina break down, it's another to depict the downward spiral of an icon in the aftermath of a shocking 20th-century incident. Portman owns every second of Jackie, but the choleric tone of the whole package should, sadly, keep her from the top prize.
3. Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
After earning the respect of Golden Globe voters for her work in Paul Verhoeven's Elle, about a woman plotting life after an intruder rapes her in her own home, the Academy had the courage to bring Huppert into the fold. The nomination is more than deserved; the French actress' IMDb is rife with classics. But I admit this prediction is 70% logical, 30% The Secret-style wishful thinking.
4. Ruth Negga (Loving)
In this cynical age, tender romance and commitment in the face of hate can be difficult for viewers to buy. In Loving, the story of Richard and Mildred Loving's Supreme Court fight for interracial marriage, Negga accomplishes both without dipping a single toe into schmaltzville. While the movie itself lacks momentum, the actress' onscreen relationship with co-star Joel Edgerton (who probably deserved that last Best Actor spot -- no offense, Viggo) feels like an endless well of passion and complication. Negga makes watching someone watch television a mesmerizing experience; as she tunes into civil rights marches on an old black & white, the entire world seems to reflect in her wide eyes. This nomination, her first, should bump the Preacher actress up to the big leagues, win or not.
5. Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins).
Poor Amy Adams. The Academy snubbed the five-time nominee for another stalwart. Not that Streep doesn't deserve her 20th nomination with this role. As the title character, an infamously horrible opera singer wannabe who paid her way into Carnegie Hall, the actress brings feverish lunacy to what otherwise might be a stuffy British biopic. I doubt she'll be on stage giving another anti-Trump speech on February 26, but she'll be there rooting for the actress who inevitably does.