*Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
The top two here ought to be Mulligan and Sidibe, with their diametrically opposed but similarly acute portraits of teen girls in crisis. Instead, Best Actress has been narrowed to Sandra vs. Meryl. As in Best Actor, this category pits a midprime movie queen (Bullock, 45) against a veteran character star (Streep, 60). And each played a real-life woman who triumphs at a man's game: coaching athletes and preparing French cuisine. Streep's impersonation of Julia Child was loving and full-bodied, but it's essentially a comic performance Oscar prefers drama in, arguably, a supporting role. (Amy Adams's Julie had more screen time.) Bullock, in her first Oscar nomination, has freshness and urgency going for her, plus a surprise monster hit that touched a lot of people.
Just as important, The Blind Side offered a heroine rarely seen in modern movies (including Bullock movies). Too often, women with career drive are portrayed as rudderless and incomplete; they must end up being educated and tamed by men. But Bullock's Leigh Anne Tuohy is a take-charge gal who pursues her vision of turning a homeless teen into a football star, then achieves it with very little help from men and with absolutely no apologies. She has the burning ambitions, the elbows-out attitude and, let's say, the balls of a tough male film hero. When Bullock wins the Oscar, she can accept it on behalf of all strong women.
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