HOLLYWOOD—Normally in the weeks leading up to the Oscars, I would break down the six major categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. However, this year is a bit different. I have the strong feeling that both the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress races are locks when it comes to front-runners (Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis respectively).

So as a result, the focus has transitioned to the other four races where front-runners are present, but they are not definitive locks. This week our focus is on the Best Actor and Best Actress races. Let’s start our discussion with Best Actress that sees Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep, Ruth Negga and Isabelle Huppert vying for the coveted statue.

Streep, who is indeed the greatest actress of all time in my opinion, doesn’t deliver her best work here; I think her competition is far stronger so she’s out. Newcomer Ruth Negga who managed to nab a Golden Globe nomination, but not a SAG Award is indeed a contender, the problem is the movie doesn’t have as much publicity as it should have. Her performance is subtle and not as ‘showy’ as the Academy has come to adore in recent years.

So this leaves Stone, Huppert and Portman. “Jackie” is a flick that plays as subtle and quiet, but Portman’s transformation into the Former First Lady is phenomenal and in a year with the competition not being as competitive as it is she would be a winner. However, Portman has an Oscar for “Black Swan,” which is a stronger performance in my opinion.

So it’s ultimately a race between Stone and Huppert. Emma is fascinating in “La La Land” and her character’s constant reality of rejection as an actress will resonate with a vast majority of the Actors branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Her biggest threat, Huppert not only captured a Golden Globe for her performance, but an Oscar nomination that may have been reserved for either Amy Adams “Arrival,” Taraji P. Henson “Hidden Figures” or Annette Bening “20th Century Women.”

So the fact that the Academy put a spotlight on her performance has to say a lot, but I am going to give the edge to Stone who took home the SAG award, whereas Huppert wasn’t even nominated. However, we could see a surprise just like the 2007 Oscar race that saw Marion Cotillard win the prize that many expected would go to Ellen Page for “Juno” or Meryl Streep for “The Devil Wears Prada.”

Let’s turn our attention to Best Actor that sees the likes of Casey Affleck, Denzel Washington, Ryan Gosling, Viggo Mortensen and Andrew Garfield doing battle. Nothing against the other nominees, but this is a two-person race between Affleck for “Manchester by the Sea” and Washington for “Fences.” If you were to ask me 2 weeks ago who would win, it was easy: Casey Affleck. However, there was one recent hiccup, Denzel Washington winning the SAG Award for Best Actor. Why is that pivotal, the actors branch is the largest voting body of the Academy’s membership, and Washington who was considered to be Affleck’s biggest threat, won his first SAG Award this year. That is VERY TELLING if you ask me.

This will indeed be a race that will be contentious until the final moment. Is it possible a BAFTA win by Affleck can catapult him to victory on Oscar night? Maybe, but you have to consider the fact that Washington wasn’t even nominated for a BAFTA which is a terrible omission by that membership. Love Affleck, but I think we could see Washington win his second Best Actor Oscar for a performance that is incredible to say the least, and perhaps one of the showiest from the actor as well. It’s true the Academy loves those performances that really ‘pop’ out on the screen and scream ‘Oscar’ to say the least.

So I’ve given you my picks for Best Actor and Best Actress, next week we take a look at Best Director and Best Picture, one being a bit more contentious than the other.