George Kraychyk
Joe McGovern, Nina Terrero, and Sara Vilkomerson
January 25, 2016 AT 12:00 PM EST

No one was sure who would be nominated — and not everyone was thrilled — but when Chris Rock hosts the 88th annual Academy Awards on Feb. 28, a whopping 57 films will be represented. So to help you prep for the least predictable Oscar race in recent memory, EW has your inside scoop on who’s been nominated and why. Ahead, a look at the year’s best actress nominees. Pick up the latest issue of EW here.


Breaking out has two meanings for Brie Larson. It’s what her character in Room does after being held in a shed for seven years — and it’s what has happened to her career in the wake of the movie’s release. At just 26, Larson has been acting for two-thirds of her life, but it was her 2013 lead as a foster-home supervisor in the indie Short Term 12 that grabbed the attention of Room director Lenny Abrahamson, who cast her as his film’s strong but traumatized kidnapping survivor. “There’s a tremendous dignity about Brie,” he says, “but she’s also very candid. In her performance you can also see the teenager that her character was when she was taken, which is so crucial in the second half of the film.” For Larson, the parallels between her character’s journey and her own have now been thrown into high relief. “The story has so much to do with this beautiful allegory with growing up, of being young and living in a small space and seeing things in black and white,” she says. “It takes courage, when the moment happens, to step outside this small space into a world that’s bigger and more complex. That’s exactly what’s happening in my own life.” — JOE MCGOVERN, with additional reporting by Nina Terrero


For most of Brooklyn, Saoirse Ronan captures her character’s heartache over leaving her homeland for America with the subtlest of glances and quietest of movements. Her performance — charming, delicate, and nuanced — rises from her deep connection to the character. “This story is very much part of my history,” says Ronan, whose parents moved to New York in the ’80s before returning to their native Ireland to raise their family. “It was all so close to who I was.” The actress, who earned her first Oscar nomination at 13 for Atonement, says this familiarity posed some unique problems — and anxieties. “It was the first time I had felt actual fear going into a project,” she says. “I couldn’t hide behind some other world that I was becoming a part of or disappear into a completely different character than who I am.” — NINA TERRERO


It was her minor role in 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, that inspired Blanchett to pick up an earlier, lesser-known paperback by the author, The Price of Salt. That 1952 book — which was so ahead of its time that Highsmith penned it under a pseudonym (and later retitled it Carol) — would provide the actress, 16 years after she first read it, with one of the defining roles of her career. “In the novel, Carol was so enigmatic and remote and unknowable, as most objects of desire are,” Blanchett says. “The film has a much more delicate, beautifully balanced perspective between Carol and Therese, but the interesting challenge for me was to still make Carol all of those elusive things while also depicting the quiet, private hell that she’s living in.” Director Todd Haynes praises her commitment to embodying characters so deeply that she almost becomes mistaken for them. “Watching her as Carol, you might think that the character is strongly relevant to her,” he says. “But in reality she’s nothing like Carol. Cate doesn’t have any of that mercurial fog or those neuroses. She does seem to know, though, about playing the object of desire.” — JOE MCGOVERN


For her third outing with David O. Russell — following 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook and 2013’s American Hustle — Jennifer Lawrence knew to expect the unexpected when it came to working with her renegade director. “I didn’t even bother reading the script,” she admits. “I never remember to read lines anyway — I always forget that’s part of my job — because things would change the night before and then again the next day.” She laughs. “It would kill David to make a movie the normal way.” Based loosely on real-life entrepreneur Joy Mangano — creator of, among other inventions, the best-selling Miracle Mop — Joy can credit the lion’s share of its pulse and energy to Lawrence, who appears in just about every scene and, over the course of 123 minutes, hits every conceivable emotional beat. “It’s about the business, it’s about the heart, it’s about the family, and it’s about the woman — and not about a mop,” she says. “Thank God, because I’m not a good mopper.” — SARA VILKOMERSON


Andrew Haigh’s marriage drama 45 Years is a movie of unspoken words, its air heavy with cold pockets of stillness, and that’s just the way Charlotte Rampling likes it. “When I read the script,” she recalls, “I was like, ‘Well, here we go. This suits me.’” Indeed it did. Just weeks shy of her 70th birthday, the British star of The Night Porter, The Verdict, and Swimming Pool has her first Oscar nomination — and it’s a sweeter treat considering that she earned it on her own terms. Her performance as Kate is a majestic showcase of her mercifully un-Botoxed face and the power of her melancholy smile. “The recognition is very touching to me because it’s for what I’ve always wanted to do,” she says. “I always wanted to get down and down and down into myself. I wanted that to be my journey through the acting world.” — JOE MCGOVERN

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