I see the names Hammond, Appelo & O’Neil and for some non-relative reason I think of Beck, Bogart & Appice — go figure. So I’m listening to these guys talk about the Best Actress race and asking myself, “Which one is Jeff Beck? Which one leads with his heart and soul and plays some of that crazy flash guitar?”

And I’d have to say it’s Gold Derby maestro Tom O’Neil in this instance because he’s the gabbiest and the jabbiest and the bluntest, and seems the most receptive to underground tremors while at the same time understanding the whole political equation. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Tim Appelo is bassist Tim Bogert, I think, because he’s steady and solid and pays as much attention to politically feasible possibilities as the drummer, Deadline‘s Pete Hammond, who’s mainly about long-view wisdom and community sensitivity and putting out that steady conciliatory political beat.

Natalie Portman, Annette Bening, Lesley Manville, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams, Tilda Swinton — which two won’t make the cut? My personal preferences at this stage are (in this order) Portman, Manville, Kidman, Williams and Lawrence.

Good as she is, I would honest put The Kids Are All Right‘s Bening in sixth place right now — no offense. I’m sorry but you have to choose and Bening, having gone with the advice of husband Warren Beatty, has been blowing off the press in favor of talking to the guilds. Will she get a Best Actress nomination from SAG and the Academy? Will she win with either voting body? If it happens, fine and good. I can only emphasize I’d much rather see Portman or Manville win. Portman gives by far the most committed and incendiary performance, and Manville the saddest and most touching.

A lot will depend, I think, on the Best Actress choices from The Los Angeles Film Critics Association this Sunday, and from the New York Film Critics Circle on the following day. Portman, Bening, Manville, Lawrence, Kidman, Williams, Swinton…which of these? I foresee Another Year‘s Lesley Manville winning with the NYFCC, and Black Swan‘s Natalie Portman perhaps being chosen by LAFCA…no?

Any way you slice it, it’ll be a shocker and a miracle if Bening wins with either group. Because I personally believe (as I’ve said before) that she’s somewhere fading and over. And if I’m proved wrong, okay. I’ll be on the floor but fine.

It’s the fair-minded Hammond, ironically, who passes along the most withering comment when he says that an industry person recently told him that Bening “peaked with The Grifters.” Whoa…not nice. And not true. She was close to perfect in Sam MendesAmerican Beauty and searing and straight-on in Rodrigo Garcia‘s Mother and Child.