Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Role: Texas single mother Olivia, who grows along with her two children for 12 years.
In her favor: Watching her mature is touching beyond words. Rarely has there been such a powerful physical transformation by an actor. (Other noms: G/S/B; Globes winner)
Then again: Voters may be crying too hard at her goodbye scene with her son to remember her name.
Laura Dern, “Wild”
Role: Cheryl Strayed’s mother, Bobbi, a smokestack of hopeful positivity.
In her favor: Dern’s parental gleam radiates endless dignity and grace.
Then again: She’s got a fairly brief path beside Witherspoon’s long and winding road.
Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
Role: Joan Clarke, a colleague of World War II codebreaker Alan Turing.
In her favor: She’s whip-smart, perfectly cast as a whiz who treats math like child’s play. Even when her character acts in surprising ways, telling Turing his sexuality isn’t an issue in their courtship, she shines. (G/S/B)
Then again: Clarke is a good but conventional character.
Emma Stone, “Birdman”
Role: Sam, the recovering-drug-addict daughter of a Hollywood has-been.
In her favor: She’s spunky, funny and downright intimidating. When she lashes out “You don’t exist” at her dad in a breathtaking monologue, it’s a 20-megaton truth bomb. (G/S/B)
Then again: The film’s female roles all get lighter attention than the men’s. She’s less “supporting” than “cameo.”
Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”
Role: A cranky but not entirely wicked witch.
In her favor: Who is more credible as a superhuman shape-changer? Streep’s silver throat is still strong; she sings her heartbreaking “Stay With Me” with pathos and aplomb. She’s photogenically scary. (G/S)
Then again: She would have to build a garage to make room for another Oscar. Give it a rest.
Jessica Chastain, “A Most Violent Year”
Role: Anna Morales, Brooklyn mobster’s daughter turned upright businessman’s wife.
In her favor: Another rigorous performance from the hardest-working woman in film. Her shrewd 1980 ceiling crasher — heavy lipstick, Armani, gunplay — is a scene-stealing dream.
Then again: Only the Globes nominated her. Would you forgive her for “Interstellar”? I wouldn’t.