In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!

After Oscar history was made last year when the Best Supporting Actor race fielded five former winners, it looked for the longest time as if this year's Best Actress category might follow suit. Happily, a late surge for "American Hustle" prevented such an outcome, but only just: this year's category features four former winners and one still-uncrowned darling of the actors' branch, with 38 nominations and six Oscars between them. Given that pedigree, you'd expect this to be a pretty feisty contest, right? Er... not so much.

The nominees are...

Amy Adams, "American Hustle"
If you were evaluating this race on paper, Amy Adams would look like an easy frontrunner: she's a well-liked five-time nominee still awaiting her first win, the only woman in her category without an Oscar, and delivers a grand, sexy, shape-shifting turn in one of the year's most-nominated Best Picture contenders. Some have taken issue with the performance, but I think it's crafty, layered work that balances Sydney Prosser's multitude of facades -- some calculated, some subconscious -- with great flair, referencing and recalling Barbara Stanwyck's immortal screwball turn in "The Lady Eve." Perhaps if the film stuck with her more in its second half, or if that ensemble weren't so crammed with flashy star turns, she'd be more of a favorite. As it is, the comedy Golden Globe winner will have to settle for fifth bridesmaid finish. (Check out our interview with Adams here.)

Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Not that there's any shame in losing to Blanchett -- as indomitable a frontrunner as this category has seen since Helen Mirren in "The Queen." Blanchett's ferocious, Blanche DuBois-inspired turn as a fallen society belle in Woody Allen's acclaimed tragicomedy was hailed as the likely victor when the film premiered way back in the summer, and she hasn't vacated the top spot since, winning the bulk of the critics' awards, as well as a drama Globe, SAG and BAFTA. It's a tremendously deserving performance, but the love-in is also a "welcome back" gesture of sorts: with the Australian having occupied herself principally with theater work in Sydney for the last few years, this is the first feature she's headlined solo since 2007's "Elizabeth: The Golden Age." General consensus is that 2004's Supporting Actress win wasn't sufficient for one of the most lauded actors of her generation; whispers of the ongoing Woody Allen controversy denting her chances reek of pundits desperate for a new angle. (Check out our interview with Blanchett here.)

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