Unlike last year, when for Best Actress the Academy was fishing for warm bodies, this year's full crop offers tantalizing possibilities. Will Streep square off against Blanchett? Will Winslet finally win? Most gossiply delicious, which significant star is going to get left out of the party? Usually, it's the actor categories that are loaded. Not this year. Observe, the main contenders:
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Kristin Scott Thomas, I've Loved You So Long
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road or The Reader
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Kate Beckinsale, Nothing but the Truth
That's seven significant stars. On top of that, there are at least a few more that have a chance, whose inclusion wouldn't surprise anyone, beyond the fact that they overcame such stiff competition.
Two are obscure critic's favorites:
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
One is a previous nominee:
Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy
And two more who are stars:
Keira Knightley, The Duchess
Nicole Kidman, Australia
Keep in mind, that I've only see Hathaway, Knightley, Hawkins, and Jolie. I need to catch up to Leo and Thomas, whose films have been released. The rest have yet to screen here. Those others mentioned are named on buzz from early screenings, or reputation, or on the theory that that actress will star in the year's most nominated film.
But the most likely scenario, at least in theory, according to "those who know," or rather "those who think they know," would go toward Hathaway, Thomas, Streep, Winslet, and either Blanchett or Jolie. I personally figure at least one of those performances won't be as good as hoped, and therefore might fall by the wayside. But anyway you slice it, except for maybe Thomas, those are big names. Between this and The Dark Knight, the Academy must love it. Imagine the buzz generated by, say, a competition involving Streep, Blanchett, Jolie, Winslet, and Hathaway or Beckinsale. Add to that a nomination for The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger. Stick in Tina Fey as the host. Suddenly you might hope that last year's Oscar ratings collapse can recover.
Personally, I would be disappointed if Hathaway's youth costs her a nod, and she's forced to wait her turn. You just never know about those things, do you, Gillian Anderson? If Jolie gets a nomination for I Want My Son Back: The Christine Collins Story .... Oops, I mean Changeling ... I don't know if I would actually barf. But I would definitely try. But she does have her promoters. And some think she deserved a nomination last year. So it remains a possibility.
I do feel for Leo, Hawkins, and maybe Williams, all of whom have generated strong reviews in small films. Last year, in a field with an unknown Frenchwoman (Cotillard), an aging ex-star (Christie), a teen-ish sensation (Page), an old reliable awards bridesmaid (Linney), and a filler nom for a great actress (Blanchett), they would have stood a very good chance. This year, they're facing stars in strong roles. While I wouldn't be shocked if one of the smaller names earned a surprise nomination, it's still an uphill climb.