Posted by Jack Carr @jackc
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Jack Carr

The 2017 Academy Awards, or the Oscars to you, me and the rest of the world, are roughly four months away, which means you have permission to start speculating about who'll win what. In previous years there's been a runaway favorite in by the end of the year, and there still could be before 2016 is out, but right now Best Actress, like most of the major categories, is looking pretty open.

Let's take a look at the leading ladies who could have a shot at taking home the Best Actress statuette at the 2017 ceremony, beginning with those who have an outside chance before upgrading to the major frontrunners. Word of warning: I don't have insider info so please don't put your life savings on Emma Stone just yet.

In Contention

Kate Beckinsale typically does brainless action movies so it's no surprise that she's never been Oscar-nominated, but the 43-year old Brit's name deserves to be in the mix for Love & Friendship. The adaptation of Jane Austen's Lady Susan has a truly superb 87/100 score on Metacritic, cruised to a $20m box office from almost zero hype and serves as a great showcase for Beckinsale's rarely-seen comedic skills. Variety had high praise for the actress's "magnetizing" performance. Check out the trailer.

Rebecca Hall plays news anchor Christine Chubbuck, who killed herself live on air in 1974, in the dark drama Christine. It may be too bleak for Oscar voters' tastes, but Hall gives a career-best performance.

A Kate Winslet nomination is definitely worth a bet at long odds for The Dressmaker, the Australian revenge comedy co-starring Luke Hemsworth. Winslet plays Tilly, the titular dressmaker, who dares return to the home town where everybody is convinced she murdered a school classmate. The Oscars love Kate and The Dressmaker looks like a quirky delight.

Also in the mix? Taraji P. Henson, Empire's own Cookie, for her role in Hidden Figures. Henson plays a space scientist who helped make the 1969 Apollo 11 flight (a.k.a the first moon landing) happen, which is as Oscar bait-y as all hell, although the film hasn't been screened for critics yet.

Finally, don't rule out Sally Field, who in Hello, My Name Is Doris plays a 60-something office worker who develops a major crush on a hot colleagues half her age. The comedy has decent (but not amazing) reviews, but as usual Field's sheer charm is impossible to deny.

On The Edge of Hype

While the five actresses above could grab a surprise nomination, it shouldn't be a shock if any of these ladies sneak into the shortlist. First up, the rising Brit star Ruth Negga (a regular on AMC's Preacher) plays Mildred Loving, a black woman who marries a white man in unforgiving 1958 Virigina, in the drama Loving. The premise is prime Oscar bait, and reviews have heaped praise on Negga and co-star Joel Edgerton.

In the French-language thriller Elle, Isabelle Huppert plays a woman who decides to stalk a man who attacked her in her own home. Oscar voters are rarely hot on thrillers but Huppert is a favorite and Elle is seen as a major return to form for Basic Instinct director Paul Verhoeven.

What would the Oscars be without Meryl Streep? Even Jennifer Lawrence doesn't get as much love as the reigning empress of Hollywood, and this year she's in contention once again for Florence Foster Jenkins, the quirky and upbeat story of a New York heiress who performs as an opera singer, even though her singing ability is limited, to put it kindly. The film is already a box office success and it's charming enough to get Streep another nom, even if the competition this year is strong.

And finally, Amy Adams has a very real shot at receiving a second Best Actress nomination (and sixth overall) for her lead role in Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals. In it, she plays Susan, an LA gallery owner whose glamorous but unhappy life is turned upside down when she receives the manuscript of a novel from her ex-husband. His story is violent, and Susan is forced to confront the sins of her past. It's a sexy movie and Adams is long overdue a win, but Focus might decide to push her in Supporting Actress instead. Which would be category fraud, but who am I to judge?

The 5 Frontrunners Right Now

Again, this is just my interpretation of how the shortlist might look if announced right now. Natalie Portman received nothing short of rave reviews for her embodiment of First Lady Jackie O in Jackie. The movie is far from your standard biopic and doesn't paint Jackie as a saint, but does emphasize her intelligence and importance to America in the days after the assassination of JFK. Portman won for Black Swan and it would be a shock if she didn't at least get nominated in 2017.

A slightly more unknown quantity is Jessica Chastain, whose political thriller Miss Sloane hasn't been screened yet, but looks from the trailer to be another vehicle that demonstrates the redhead's vast talent. Its subject matter could prove controversial (her character Elizabeth Sloane fights for tighter gun control in Washington), but Chastain was nominated for Zero Dark Thirty, should've been recognized for A Most Violent Year back in 2015, and may have a strong shot again now.

Annette Bening has three Best Actress nominations to her name already, and her spirited performance in the comedic drama 20th Century Women looks like exactly the sort of thing Oscar voters will get high on. The movie premieres this week at New York Film Fest, and strong reviews will likely boost Bening's chances.

If this comes down to a two-horse race, though, right now you'd probably want Viola Davis in the ring. The Suicide Squad and The Help star has a super-intense dramatic lead role in Fences with Denzel Washington (who also directed), a story of race struggles and family turmoil in 1950s Pittsburgh. Short of getting Meryl Streep to play a wheelchair-bound scientific genius who develops a cure for cancer, you could not design a more Oscar bait-y role, and the Academy may well bite.

And finally, let's talk about Emma Stone. She's one of the most likeable actresses working today, has a great range and seems to share sizzling chemistry with her La La Land co-star Ryan Gosling. In effect, she could be the "new" Jennifer Lawrence, now that J-Law has ceased making good movies. La La Land is a musical which is hardly prime Oscar bait, but it has a phenomenal 90/100 on Metacritic and will undoubtedly get a Best Picture nomination, as well as nods for both its leads. The only question is whether or not Stone can win — or who could possibly stop her.

I'll keep on top of the state of play in Best Actress, as well as making a few predictions in the other major categories, in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, use the comments to share your thoughts on the frontrunners in the category as well as any surprise contenders.

Who most deserves a Best Actress nomination at the 2017 Oscars?