John Byrne looks at the actress nominations for this year's Academy Awards.

Lead Actress: Sally Hawkins

What's she nominated for?  The Shape of Water

What's that about? Hawkins stars as Elisa Esposito, who's mute and communicates through sign language. A cleaner at a high-security government laboratory, she falls in love with a captured humanoid-amphibian creature.

Wasn't she in . . .  ? The 41-year-old Londoner won a Golden Globe for Happy-Go-Lucky, featured in Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, 2010's Made in Dagenham, and also featured in a brace of Woody Allen films.

Is she likely to win? She missed out on a BAFTA in her native UK, so that doesn't augur well.

Frances McDormand

What's she nominated for? Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

What's that about? It's about the best film I've seen in ages! McDormand plays a mad-as-hell Missouri mother who rents three billboards to call attention to her daughter's unsolved murder.

Wasn't she in . . .  ? A number of films by the Coen brothers, including Blood Simple (1984), Raising Arizona (1987), Fargo (1996), The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), Burn After Reading (2008), and Hail, Caesar!(2016). She won an Oscar for her role as Marge Gunderson in Fargo.

Is she likely to win? Extremely likely. BAFTA and Golden Globe awards are already resting on the McDormand mantelpiece.

Margot Robbie

What's she nominated for? I, Tonya

What's that about? Based on a true story, Robbie stars in this mockumentary as Tonya Harding, the working-class American ice skater who gained notoriety when her abusive husband had her biggest rival beaten up.

Wasn't she in . . .  ? Aussie Robbie's gone from Neighbours to The Wolf of Wall Street to Suicide Squad in the last ten years. Awards-wise she's had Best Actress nominations at the Academy Award, Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA Award for I, Tonya.

Is she likely to win? In a normal year she would've skated home. But the competition this time around is phenomenal.

Saoirse Ronan

What's she nominated for? Lady Bird

What's that about? This coming-of-age dramedy, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, stars Ronan in the lead role of Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson, a Sacramento student dreaming of attending an Ivy League college.

Wasn't she in . . .  ? From The Clinic on RTÉ One to an Oscar nomination for Atonement while still in her teens, on to Brooklyn and Grand Budapest Hotel, Saoirse has been on a permanently upward curve in her career.

Is she likely to win? An absolute cert any other year – in her way this time around is a certain Frances McDormand.

Meryl Streep

What's she nominated for? The Post

What's that about? Based on a true story concerning The Washington Post, Streep stars in this slick Steven Spielberg film as Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper.

Wasn't she in . . .  ? Don’t even start. I haven’t got all day. Streep’s been nominated for a record 21 Academy Awards, winning three. She has also received 31 Golden Globe nominations, winning eight - more nominations and competitive wins than any other actor.

Is she likely to win? Despite putting in a super performance and matching co-star Tom Hanks, there's not a hope that Streep will add to her already impressive collection of acting gongs.

Supporting Actress: Mary J Blige

What's she nominated for? Mudbound

What's that about? This period drama follows two World War II veterans - one white, one black - who return to rural Mississippi to cope with racism and PTSD. Blige plays Florence, the wife of a tenant farmer.

Wasn't she in . . .  ? A hugely successful singer/rapper, Blige doubled-up with a spot of acting, ranging from broadway to TV show Ghost Whisperer, and alongside Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages.

Is she likely to win? Not a chance. The nomination is her victory.

Allison Janney

What's she nominated for? I, Tonya

What's that about? In yet another career-defining role, Janney plays the chain-smoking LaVona Fay Golden, Tonya Harding’s unbearable mother. She’s already won a rake of awards for the part.

Wasn't she in . . .  ? Starring as CJ in The West Wing was when I and most of the world first fell in love with Janney. She’s been amazing in lots of things ever since, including The Help and American Beauty.

Is she likely to win? I’ll put it to you this way: if she doesn’t win, there will be trouble.

Lesley Manville

What's she nominated for? Phantom Thread

What's that about? It’s a romantic period drama written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and set in London's couture world in the 1950s.

It stars Daniel Day-Lewis in his final role as Reynolds Woodcock, a fashion designer living with and managed by his sister Cyril, played by Lesley Manville.

Wasn't she in . . .  ? If you’re a Mike Leigh fan, she’ll be very familiar. But she’s probably best known for her role as Flittle, a pixie in Maleficent.

Is she likely to win? If finishing third could be regarded as a win . . .

Laurie Metcalf

What's she nominated for? Lady Bird

What's that about? Playing opposite Saoirse Ronan’s ambitious and overbearing Christine, Metcalfe excels as Marion McPherson, Christine’s long-suffering mother.

Wasn't she in . . .  ? US sitcom Roseanne put her on a global pedestal, as she played the loveably vulnerable Jackie. Her lengthy film CV includes Uncle Buck, Pacific Heights and JFK.

Is she likely to win? It’s between her and Allison Janney, really.

Octavia Spencer

What's she nominated for? The Shape of Water

What's that about? Spencer plays Zelda, co-worker of Sally Hawkins’ Elisa, whose life is changed when the pair of them discover a secret classified experiment. 

Wasn't she in . . .  ? Lots of film and TV stuff, but Spencer’s best known for playing Minny Jackson in The Help, which earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2012.

Is she likely to win? She’s up against it with Janney and Metcalf in the field.