With a slew of compelling parts for women, the Best Actress race is one serious showdown

By Nicole Sperling
Updated November 05, 2015 at 12:00 PM EST
Paul Zimmerman/WireImage; Mike Marsland/WireImage; Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic

Talk about a great year for women. The Best Actress race is so abundant with complex roles in artfully made films that we no longer have to go searching for that brilliant performance in an otherwise unimpressive movie. With standouts like Brooklyn, Carol, and 45 Years, to name just a few, Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, and Charlotte Rampling deliver riveting portrayals of a wide cross section of women within larger, beautifully painted canvases. In fact, the field is so packed that arguably lead performances by actresses including Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl and Rooney Mara in Carol have been downgraded to supporting categories, with oddsmakers figuring chances of a win might be stronger in a less crowded field.

Even with Emily Blunt’s powerful turn as an overwhelmed FBI agent in Sicario, Charlize Theron’s fearless depiction of a determined road warrior in Mad Max: Fury Road, and Sandra Bullock’s committed performance as a cynical political operative in Our Brand Is Crisis — not to mention stellar work from Carey Mulligan in Suffragette, Blythe Danner in I’ll See You in My Dreams, and Lily Tomlin in Grandma — this year’s front-runner status belongs to 26-year-old Brie Larson. Her devastating portrayal of Ma in the dark-horse contender Room has catapulted the former Disney star and once-struggling sideliner into the spotlight, a position she’s been handling with a grace and charm reminiscent of another fresh face whose emergence changed the conversation only a few years ago, Jennifer Lawrence.

And if anyone can rearrange the playing field, it’s Lawrence, the star of David O. Russell’s still-unseen film Joy. Will her performance charting 30 years in the life of a deeply driven entrepreneurial woman knock Larson off the leaderboard? Anything can happen. One thing is for sure: This year, watching each and every one of these major-league talents is a joy.