1. Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Four previous nominations (1 win).
The film has come on stronger than I would've expected, and it might propel McDormand to an unlikely second Oscar. After snagging the Globe, SAG, and Critics' Choice awards against such stiff competition, she's the one to beat.
2. Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Two previous nominations.
Though she won't be the youngest to a third nomination (hey, JLaw!), it's certainly quite the feat that she's nearing overdue status at the age of 23. Lady Bird is very well liked, and she won the Golden Globe (Comedy), but Oscar voters might be swayed by flashier work this year.
3. Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)
One previous nomination.
As an endearing and empathetic mute woman in Guillermo del Toro's fantasy fairy-tale, Hawkins brings her A game and will net her second Oscar nom after receiving a Supporting Actress nomination for Blue Jasmine in 2013.
4. Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
No previous nominations.
The film is peaking at the right moment + she plays a real-life figure + she's a gorgeous ingenue who hasn't yet been welcomed to "the club" = a sure bet Oscar nomination.
5. Meryl Streep (The Post)
Twenty previous nominations (3 wins).
It would be bizarre for the Academy to finally pass on Streep in a year when she's giving one of her best performances ever, though after missing out on SAG and BAFTA nominations (both groups that love her just as much as AMPAS), it could happen.