Role: Lynne Cheney, the culture warrior behind a rising politician.
In her favor: Lady Macbeth in a perfect Republican helmet of hair, Adams unleashes a ruthless resolve to whip her dissolute husband into shape and goad him to power. (G/S/B)
Then again: Nominated five previous times, Adams has been passed over for better work, including a similar role in “The Master.”
Marina de Tavira
Role: Sofia, the overwhelmed matriarch of a boisterous Mexican family.
In her favor: She manages to be both maddeningly neglectful and achingly sympathetic. We can feel that, somewhere beneath that caustic exterior, a loving mother is struggling to emerge.
Then again: Foreign-language performances are a tough sell, as evidenced by her omission from rival award contests.
“If Beale Street Could Talk”
Role: Sharon Rivers, a mother fighting for justice.
In her favor: King straddles the delicate line between ferocity and tenderness, sometimes in the same sentence. She taps into a primal instinct while maintaining an extraordinary dignity; this is a woman you want in your corner. (Globes winner)
Then again: Nothing — it’s hard to foresee a scenario in which King doesn’t win.
Role: Abigail Hill, an impoverished woman who worms her way into the royal household.
In her favor: Stone uses her big blue eyes to splendid “who, me?” effect, as she artfully schemes to stay one step ahead of those who would cross her. And she has the advantage of serving as the story’s catalyst. (G/S/B)
Then again: No one’s very likable here, but Abigail might rank last.
Role: Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, longtime attendant to the queen.
In her favor: Weisz brings a survival-of-the-most-ruthless attitude to every scene, her steely intelligence and will undimmed by the increasingly unhinged goings-on. Even when she’s one-eyed, her gaze will level you. (G/S/B)
Then again: Her character isn’t as flamboyant as Stone’s, or as triumphant.
Role: Janet Armstrong, wife of the pioneering astronaut.
In her favor: When Foy thrusts out her redoubtable chin and spits out “You’re a bunch of boys” to the patronizing powers that be, she cracks open the little-woman-sitting-home cliché. (G/B)
Then again: She doesn’t quite destroy it. This was still the 1960s, after all.