Rebecca Hall, Sally Hawkins, Frances McDormand, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson
‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’
How she got here: The HFPA can always be counted on to throw a few newcomers or late bloomers into the mix, and Hall is among the former. The daughter of English theater director Peter Hall, the 26-year-old guilelessly stole scenes from her better known — and four-time Globe nominee — co-star Scarlett Johansson, and held her own with Javier Bardem. Woody Allen has been known to pluck a young actress from near-obscurity and showcase her in his movies (i.e., Mira Sorvino in “Mighty Aphrodite”); Hall seems especially worthy of the effort.
How she got here: Having already won the Los Angeles Film Critics and New York Film Critics’ lead actress awards, Sally Hawkins goes from relatively unknown British TV actress to major screen presence with “Happy-Go-Lucky.” Although all five of the lead-actress nominees are playing for laughs, Hawkins’ eternally optimistic schoolteacher may be the goofiest, most effervescent of the bunch. (And to think it was directed by Mike Leigh!) Amy Adams played a similarly sunshine-filled character in last year’s “Enchanted,” but she was a Disney princess after all.
‘Burn After Reading’
How she got here: Let’s be honest: Being married to a talented director is an advantage for an actress. Frances McDormand, for one, first came to attention with “Blood Simple” and then won the biggest accolades of her career (including a Globe and an Oscar) for “Fargo,” both co-directed by husband Joel Coen and his brother Ethan. But her versatility goes well beyond familial circles (think “Almost Famous” and “North Country”). Still, her ditzy blackmailer who just wants to finance her plastic surgery in the latest Coen offering gives her the opportunity for dozens of her patently hilarious reaction shots. And it is all just too delicious to ignore.
How she got here: On the upside, between being nominated in both lead actress categories and rewriting the book for female thesps of a certain age, Meryl Streep definitely has a shot for at least one of the Globes statues. It’s what happened to Tom Hanks in 1994 when he won for “Philadelphia” but lost for “Sleepless in Seattle.” There’s always the chance that the embarrassment of riches will somehow end up canceling each other out, though that seems unlikely for Streep, whose willingness to be silly is surely one of the reasons “Mamma Mia!” made more than $500 million.
‘Last Chance Harvey’
How she got here: In recent years, Emma Thompson’s fans may have be thinking, “Enough with the Harry Potter movies and playing freaky-looking nannies!” Where are the warmhearted, struggling women we cherished in “Howards End” or “Sense and Sensibility”? While “Last Chance Harvey” may lack the highbrow pedigree of those beloved novels and the resulting adaptations (as well as the period wardrobe), the fact that she’s again portraying a woman who keeps her dignity and her wit while life hands her lemons is reason enough to take notice.