The final acting category, Best Actress, is a total doozy this year and mostly because this wasn't the scenario everyone had in mind.  If studio Oscar consultants and personal publicists had had their way, Kate Winslet's stunning turn in "The Reader" would have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Meryl Streep would have had an easier road to her third Academy Award for her performance as a nun on the warpath in "Doubt."  Yes, it's true.  The cinema icon only has two Oscar wins to her credit, very early in her career, for "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Sophie's Choice," and during her SAG Award acceptance speech for Best Actress she made an appropriate dig at the Academy for making her not just the most nominated actress in history, but also one of the biggest losers.  More on that later.

As for Winslet, the Academy's acting branch didn't play the game her camp wanted (which probably would have seen her "Revolutionary Road" performance recognized here) and instead set up a climatic battle of the haves versus the have nots.

BEST ACTRESS

The nominees are....
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Lowdown: The last time the "World's Greatest Living Actress" had this good a shot at winning was in 1996 for "The Bridges of Madison County."
Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Lowdown: Overshadowed by Winslet and Streep.
Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Lowdown: Literally, the pinnacle of her career.
Angelina Jolie, "Changeling"
Lowdown: Should have been nominated for a much better performance in last year's "A Mighty Heart."  She's been a trouper on the awards circuit though.
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"
Lowdown: In this writer's opinion, the best performance of her career.  If she wins, completely deserved.

Unlike Streep who has won, Winslet has lost the five previous times she's been nominated and she's only 33-years-old.  If she gets passed over for this performance, you wonder if she'll ever win. And in years past Streep would have sent signals making sure members knew another actor such as Winslet, should win.  Yet, that speech at the SAG Awards has to stick with anyone who seriously covers the Academy Awards.  It was pointed directly at the membership and could easily have been interpreted as "Are you really going to send me home a loser again?"  So,we have quite the quandary.

Yet, this is always a category that goes with the young ingenue (see Marion Cotillard defeating Julie Christie last year) and that should tip the scales to the Brit.


Winner: Kate Winslet, "The Reader"

As we countdown to the biggest night of the year, here's the rundown of even more Oscar content this week on HitFix:


Monday: Best Supporting Actress Prediction: Viola Davis, Best Supporting Actor Prediction: Heath Ledger
Tuesday: Best Actor Prediction: Sean Penn
Thursday: Best Picture, Best Director spotlights and Team HitFix Picks (yep, the whole crew)
Saturday: Coverage of The Spirit Awards, where Hollywood honors its Indie brethren.
Sunday: Breaking coverage of the 81st Academy Awards with red carpet galleries, winners, running blog and the ever-popular wrap "Best and Worst" of the show.

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