Role: Cleo, housemaid to a family in 1970s Mexico City.
In her favor: You don't even need subtitles: Aparicio's lovely, serene countenance contains multitudes about this family's life, and her own. Practice spelling her name; she's a true find.
Then again: A first-time actor who has been otherwise ignored during awards season, Aparicio might be the epitome of "just happy to be nominated."
Role: Joan Castleman, spouse and muse to a Nobel Prize-winning author.
In her favor: Close attacks this juicy role, letting us in on her indignation, her pain and, finally, her rage. You can almost imagine her declaring, "I'm not gonna be ignored!" (G/S/B, Globes winner)
Then again: The film is predictable and pedestrian, and all but shamelessly begs "Just give Glenn Close her Oscar already."
Role: Gout-ridden, stroke-addled Queen Anne, presiding over an 18th-century court.
In her favor: She's petulant and childlike, yet slyly manipulative and fully in command. You never doubt where the real power in this power struggle lies. And Colman isn't afraid to look batty and bloated. (G/S/B, Globes winner)
Then again: She's really first among equals in a troika of formidable females.
"A Star Is Born"
Role: Ally Campana, a singer/songwriter with big dreams.
In her favor: We knew Gaga could sing; who could predict she would light up the screen in every scene? When Ally first turns her face to the camera in that drag club, Bradley Cooper's Jackson is smitten, and so are we. (G/S/B)
Then again: Too much, too soon? A best song award for her bringing-down-the-house "Shallow" might be considered enough.
"Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
Role: Lee Israel, real-life author and forger.
In her favor: McCarthy brings her trademark irreverence to a rare serious role, infusing this misanthrope with a pathos that is as tangible as the layer of grime in her early '90s New York City apartment. And Oscar loves to reward actors playing against type. (G/S/B)
Then again: It's a small, literary-minded movie that not enough people saw.
"Mary Poppins Returns"
Role: The practically perfect English nanny.
In her favor: Blunt is a pleasant singer who lacks Julie Andrews' crystalline pipes but matches her prim playfulness. There's a melancholy behind those eyes that fits the more somber tone of this sequel. (G/S)
Then again: It would have been unlikely — if not heretical — to win for the same role that got Andrews an Oscar 54 years ago.