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Judi Dench - "Philomena"
Pros: With six nominations and one win to her name, Dench is firmly in the Academy club -- the elite group of veterans who can get nominated even for performances as phoned-in as "Mrs. Henderson Presents" and "Chocolat." And Dench's deft, touching turn as a devoutly Catholic Irishwoman seeking the son she was forced to give up for adoption isn't phoned-in; it's her most substantial, nuanced work since 2006's "Notes on a Scandal," which, as it happens, was her last performance to register with the Academy. The film, meanwhile, is an Academy-friendly crowdpleaser -- a smash in Venice, it was the runner-up Audience Award winner in Toronto -- with the weight of the Weinsteins behind it. Residual goodwill for last year's "Skyfall" (for which she probably came close to her seventh nod) can only help.
Cons: The film is easily digestible, but it's also rather light, with a comedic approach to tragic material that may catch some voters off guard. That'll help her in the Golden Globe musical/comedy race, but outside the Academy's British voting bloc, will the film's odd tonal blend land right? And against such powerhouses as Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep, is the performance too gentle to register?