Best Actress Front-runners

So, as I sit down to write this, I've just come from a screening of The Young Victoria, in which Emily Blunt portrays the English queen at the beginning of her reign in the mid 19th century, with much pomp and pretty accents and costumes. And I'm glad I did, because it justifies my laziness procrastination prudence in holding off writing this for another day. Cuz it's one more flick I've got under my belt for awards season.

Best Actress front-runners? Geez, who can tell at this point? With two months left in the awards season, that means I've got at least half a dozen possible contenders for just this one honor still to see, based on what others are speculating and rumormongering or just wishful thinkering. I have not yet seen Julianne Moore in A Single Man, or Natalie Portman in Brothers, or Meg Ryan in Serious Moonlight, or Saoirse Ronan in The Lovely Bones, or Penelope Cruz in Nine, or Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air, or Robin Wright Penn in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, or Mother Nature in 2012.

Just kidding about that last one. I don't think forces of nature are eligible for Oscars. Then again: Meryl Streep does keep getting nominated.

Still, if I had to pick, right now, the five most likely Best Actress nominees for 2009 -- based only on the films I've already seen -- here's how it would go:

Carey Mulligan

Carey Mulligan in An Education: And she might even win, this almost total unknown, for her remarkably assured performance as a teenager who's not as mature as she thinks she is. But even if she doesn't win, she wins, because she's made herself known as a talent to be reckoned with.

Gabby Sidibe in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire: Ooo, the Academy loves a daring performance, and this is certainly that, as another 20-something -- like Mulligan -- portrays a teenager forced to grow up far before her time by contending with terrible abuse and a shocking absence of love of any kind.

Bright Star

Abbie Cornish in Bright Star: If there's a trend this year, it's for the young girl's art house coming-of-age. Cornish's Regency teen falls hard for mopey Romantic poet John Keats, and there is much grief and heartbreak and lovely smooching ... but also unexpected steel.

Penelope Cruz in Broken Embraces: Cruz is always fantastic, but here she plays an actress -- which is just the kind of insider-y stuff the Academy loves -- and gets to morph between characters within characters.

Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia: Because it wouldn't be the Oscars without Streep, and because her portrayal of iconic chef Julia Child transcends impersonation to become warmly alive.

Long shots: Michelle Monaghan in Trucker (for being so perfectly devoid of sweetness), Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria (another art house coming-of-age), Michelle Pfeiffer in Cheri (for being sexy over 50), and -- wouldn't I love to see this one -- Alison Lohman in Drag Me to Hell (for being so trickily sweet that you almost miss how evil she is).

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MaryAnn Johanson would like to thank the Academy at FlickFilosopher.com. (email me)