This could be the category that keeps Robert Altman awake at night. More than 25 years after he guided Nashville’s Lily Tomlin and Ronee Blakley to competing nominations, the filmmaker’s latest is likely to spawn two candidates — HELEN MIRREN and two-time winner MAGGIE SMITH — from Gosford Park. Both actresses earned Golden Globe nods, so look for the battle between upstairs and downstairs to continue.

Two younger performers appear to be locks as well. At only 26, KATE WINSLET, who plays the young Iris Murdoch in Iris, stands to earn her third nomination. Meanwhile, 31-year-old JENNIFER CONNELLY could be the category’s only first-time nominee, thanks to her affecting turn in A Beautiful Mind.

The final contender is a bit tougher to predict. CAMERON DIAZ earned a Globe nod as Tom Cruise’s jealous booty call in Vanilla Sky, but the movie will probably divide voters as much as it did audiences. The Royal Tenenbaums kin (and past Oscar winners) ANJELICA HUSTON and GWYNETH PALTROW might be overshadowed by Gene Hackman. The Shipping News’ JUDI DENCH, who received a nomination last year in this category for Chocolat, did better-received lead work in Iris. That leaves My Cousin Vinny Oscar winner MARISA TOMEI, whose touching performance as In the Bedroom’s suffering girlfriend could transform her from an Academy Award punchline into a bona fide contender.

For your consideration


For your consideration

Our affection for FIONNULA FLANAGAN goes back to Rich Man, Poor Man. But she outdid herself as the house-keeper in The Others. Is she there to tidy up or to terrify? And is there anyone in this race she wouldn’t spook?