Here's an exciting race! The nominees are Annette Benning (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), and Michele Williams (Blue Valentine).
First, let me say that if it were up to me, Jennifer Lawrence would get the award. She gave what was easily the best female leading performance of the year. Maybe the best lead performance period. But sadly, it's not up to me.
No, this race is really between Benning and Portman. Voters have a choice: they can finally give the Oscar to a Hollywood legend or they can give it to the young actress who suffered for her role. Both won Golden Globes and are clearly the front-runners, but it comes down to one factor – Portman wants it more.
On talk shows and interviews she never fails to mention her rigorous ballet training and diet for the role. During the nomination voting she announced that she's pregnant and has been showing up to events in baby bump-accenting gowns. She also announced that she is engaged to her Black Swan Choreographer. And if that wasn't enough to keep people talking about her, she took a page from Julia Robert's winning playbook and released a light comedy movie to run during Oscar season.
Remember in 2000 when Julia Roberts was up for Erin Brockovich, a serious dramatic role? During Oscar season she released The Mexican, a light relationship comedy, to remind voters that she has range as an actress. This also had the benefit of letting her campaign for the Oscar without looking like she was campaigning – she would go on talk shows and do interviews ostensibly to promote the new movie, but the conversation would always turn to her nomination. Very clever. But the plan can backfire – let's not forget Eddie Murphy. He got a nomination for Dreamgirls and then released Norbit, effectively ruining his shot at the Oscar.
So, while Annette Benning floats her way graciously through another awards season, Natalie Portman is focused with steely, laser-like precision on that Oscar. Let's just hope she doesn't fall victim to the "Best Actress curse."