1. Patricia Arquette is the actress to beat. Her role as the mom parenting two kids over 12 years in Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” could well be considered a lead. By moving her to supporting, IFC figured–correctly–that she had a better chance of winning the category.
Arquette is movingly real and natural as the mother who shepherds her children through the breakup with their father (Ethan Hawke) and two turbulent marriages before emerging as a professional successful single woman–with an empty nest. Arquette’s money scene comes near the end, when her son packs for college and she admits, “I thought there would be more.” Arquette is a key window into this accessible and identifiable movie, for parents and children alike.
While Arquette, 46, has been a standout actress for years in such films as “True Romance,” “Ethan Frome” and “Lost Highway,” “Boyhood” is her highest-profile role to date and marks her first Oscar nomination. She won the New York Film Critics Circle and Golden Globes and is nominated for SAG and Indie Spirit awards.
2. Oscar perennial Meryl Streep (the 65-year-old now boasts a record 19 nominations) is coming off her third Oscar for “Iron Lady.” Actors applaud her entertaining and heart-tugging musical performance as the witch in Rob Marshall’s uneven Disney adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”; the Globe and SAG nominee is the only rival to Arquette.
3. Keira Knightley plays her best character role to date, brainy math whiz Joan Clarke in The Weinstein Co.’s box office success “The Imitation Game,” which scored eight nominations. Clarke provides a much-needed buffer and communicator for lead Enigma Code-breaker Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and becomes engaged to him for a time, even though he’s gay. Knightley, 29, also carried excellent musical “Begin Again” and “Laggies” this year. She was nominated once before for Best Actress for “Pride and Prejudice,” and was nominated for both SAG and Globe awards.
4. Emma Stone, 26, gets this year’s young ingenue nomination (see Marisa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinnie,” Jessica Chastain in “The Help”) for her role in “Birdman” as Michael Keaton’s daughter/assistant, who’s in recovery from substance abuse and delightfully flirtatious with Edward Norton’s narcissistic theater star. Stone has both SAG and Globe nominations. This is her first nomination.
5. Laura Dern in “Wild.” The daughter of two Oscar-nominated veterans (Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern) plays the heart-breaking working class mother of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) in “Wild.” She’s loving and generous and upbeat even when things are grim; when she dies, Strayed goes into a tailspin. Dern is hugely liked by her fellow actors and could land a slot, even though she didn’t earn noms from SAG or the Globes; this year she also played the mother of cancer survivor Hazel (Shailene Woodley) in “The Fault in Our Stars.” This is her second nomination after her lead role in “Rambling Rose.”