Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

The Best Actress class features two previous winners, one previous nominee (four times over), and two first-time nominees. Felicity Jones could well turn this nomination into a catalyst for a big career. Had you heard of Jennifer Lawrence before WINTER’S BONE? Neither had I. The catalyst is her reward, because as much as THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING could be a presence on Oscar Night, it won’t be a presence in this category.

Rosamund Pike’s nomination for her incredible performance in GONE GIRL became that once-contending film’s sole nomination. She’s been turning in great performances for a very long time, so hopefully this moment of recognition is just the start of things to come. As freaky as Amy Dunne is though, she won’t be holding a gold statue at the end of the night.

Reese Witherspoon and Marion Cotillard have both won this category in the last ten years, and each one of them turned in performances that carried their respective films. In a neat point/counterpoint, Witherspoon worked in a way that usually had her riding solo, where Cotillard did amazing things where she had the same conversation over and over with various people. Cotillard’s nomination is somewhat of an achievement all its own since it’s one of the lesser-seen of all the films nominated in the major categories, and the only one in a foreign language. However, neither performance really captured Oscar’s imagination, so neither woman will be going home with a playmate for the gold guys already on their mantles.

This category, folks, is Julianne Moore’s to lose.

This time around she has two things going for her. Besides the fact that “she’d due” – a situation that has seldom stopped Oscar voters from handing a statue to an actor the dig instead of a performance they love – she brought the good with STILL ALICE. The film has its flaws, but there is no denying the effect and sorrow that one is left with seeing what Moore’s character goes through in her struggle with early-onset-Alzheimer’s. Like many previous winners in this category, it’s a killer performance in a spotty film, but a deserving one with a deserving woman.

Ryan’s Pick… Fifth time’s a charm for Julianne Moore.

Over in the boys’ room, there is actually one of the few categories on the night that has turned into a tight race. Here we have four first time nominees, with three-peat-nominee Bradley Cooper thrown in for good measure.

Steve Carell and Benedict Cumberbatch don’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell, which is strange to say considering how strong both performances were received in the early fall. If anyone wants an example as to why it’s dodgy to talk Oscars in September, I give you examples A and B.

Bradley Cooper is an outlyer we’d be foolish to completely ignore. Besides the fact that he has that three-peat of nominations, his film has caught the attention of a certain section of the zeitgeist at just the right time. This is a category where there is a strong possibility of a split vote, and it could be enough for Cooper to take advantage of. He’s a dark horse for sure, but stranger things have happened.

Once upon a time, Michael Keaton seemed to have this category sewn up. Besides being a force of nature the way he is in BIRDMAN, he’s an actor who is genuinely loved in Hollywood celebrating his first nomination ever. The film’s success, the story surrounding Keaton, and the performance itself seemed to add up to a sure thing.

Then along came Eddie Redmayne…

Redmayne’s performance began as a nice part of a nice film. As the year-end conversations were going on, few people talked about THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING or Redmayne’s role within it. But then the young Brit got himself a Golden Globe…and a SAG award…and a BAFTA. Suddenly, he became not just a contender in this category, but arguably the man to beat! Like many men before him, he parlayed the restrictions of a character’s physical abilities into something memorable, and it might be enough to wow the majority of voters in this category. Oscar loves giving this award to portrayals of actual people (7 times in the last 10 years), so put that all together and it might be enough to clip The Birdman’s wings.

Ryan’s Pick… Keaton by a beak past the surging Redmayne.

Whaddaya think folks? Leave comments with your own thoughts on possibilities and predictions of the Best Acting races.