|The 2012 Races Set it Up for Actors to Be in the Limelight & Actresses to Be in the Shadows|
That said, looking at the way the field is shaking out in the Actor and Actress field, it seems like the Actors getting buzz, as well as their respective films, all seem far more commercially viable with greater name recognition (both the actors and the films), as opposed to the actresses.
With the exception of John Hawks in The Session, the leading actor contenders are household names: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Denzel Washington (Flight), Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock), Jaoquin Phoenix (The Master), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Ben Affleck (Argo), Matt Damon (Promised Land), Bradley Cooper (Silver Lining Playbook), Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson) and Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained).
The actress race has potential to offer it's own compelling stories and there is certainly time for performances to rise to the surface, but the biggest names do not seem to be leading the pack, and the films are generally smaller films. Interestingly, one of the most likely nominees is Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Lining Playbook) iscertainly a rising star following a previous nomination for Winter's Bone and perhaps more significantly, blockbuster recognition for her role in The Hunger Games.
Other actresses with a chance for a nomination include less public figures (movie buffs love them - but the man on the street might struggle to name more than one film these people have appeared in): Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Smashed), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), and Quvenzhane Wallis (Beast of the Southern Wild).
And then there are some other females who's names appear at award shows but generally are not a part of the public conversation, and certainly not for these films: Helen Mirren (Hitchcock), Maggie Smith (Quartet), Marion Cottilard (Rust & Bone), Naomi Watts (The Impossible), and Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina).
Frankly, the Actress race looks more like the Independent Spirit Awards. And perhaps this helps compel some smaller films into the conversation, but I think it's more likely this pushes the actress race into the background.