"Promising Young Woman"
Role: Cassie, who pretends to be drunk in bars to turn the tables on predatory men.
In her favor: The performance is revelatory, and Mulligan hit the interview circuit hard. She also has huge industry support for calling out a critic whose review she interpreted as saying she wasn't "hot enough" for the part.
Then again: People love or hate the button-pushing movie. Will the haters dismiss her work?
Role: Fern, who moves into a van and hits the road.
In her favor: Not only did McDormand coproduce "Nomadland" and help shape her character, but the "Fargo" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" winner disappeared so completely into Fern that some of her co-stars, who play themselves, didn't know she was an actor.
Then again: The two-time winner will contend in 2022 as an upcoming Lady Macbeth.
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
Role: Ma Rainey, a blues musician who boozes and applies lipstick as hard as she sings.
In her favor: It's a showy role, and like her win for "Fences," it originated in an August Wilson play. Although her supporting trophy was recent, she's due for a win in the best actress category.
Then again: The part doesn't have much range or screen time. At the 1988 Tony Awards, it was considered a supporting role.
"The United States vs. Billie Holiday"
Role: The legendary singer, hounded to her grave by the FBI.
In her favor: Oscar voters love a singer who crosses over into acting almost as much as they love a biopic; they nominated Diana Ross for playing the same character in "Lady Sings the Blues."
Then again: Backlashers don't like the limited view of Holiday, and debut performers usually lose.
"Pieces of a Woman"
Role: Martha, who is haunted by the death of her baby during a home delivery.
In her favor: The 20-minute childbirth scene is unlike anything else on screen this year. Two of the past four best actresses (Emma Stone, Olivia Colman) won at the Venice Film Festival, as did Kirby.
Then again: The movie is a mess, and because it stars currently canceled Shia LaBeouf, its awards campaign has been muted.
Missed the cut:
Role: Monica, who is not sold on her family moving to the South to start a farm.
Why she had a chance: Last year's "Parasite" wins spotlighted South Korean artists, she's a star in her home country and she's in a movie that is universally beloved ...
Then again: ... by those who have taken the time to see it. Would some Oscar voters skip a gentle title in a foreign language without names or a zippy hook?