During award season it pays to be Kate -- or Cate
This year that's Winslet or Blanchett, but don't count out Emma Thompson, Anne Hathaway and of course, Meryl Streep.
Blanchett is back in contention for a nod as part of the ensemble in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." (Merrick Morton / Paramount Pictures)
Kate Hepburn managed to do it 12 times, winning a record four as leading actress, more than any other actor.
By age 32, Kate Winslet became the youngest actress to nab five nominations. By 38, Cate Blanchett had also racked up five nods, including two last year -- for lead actress in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and supporting in "I'm Not There." And to really bring the point home, Blanchett won a supporting statuette in 2004 for "The Aviator" for playing, you guessed it, Kate Hepburn.
This year in the lead actress category, the "Kate" effect is in full swing with Winslet coming in with her SAG- and Golden Globe-nominated performances as April Wheeler in "Revolutionary Road" and as Hanna Schmitz in "The Reader." Blanchett is back in contention for a nod as part of the ensemble in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Aiming for her first nomination is Critics' Choice contender Kate Beckinsale for "Nothing but the Truth." And then there's two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson (for acting and writing) for her Globe-nominated turn in "Last Chance Harvey."
Sure, her name is Emma but her character -- wait for it -- is named Kate.
Winslet, Blanchett and Thompson would make an exciting competition in any year, but 2008's battle of the female heavyweights continues with two more sure shots: SAG- and double Globe-nominee Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius in "Doubt" and "Girl, Interrupted" supporting winner Angelina Jolie still trying for her first lead actress nod for "Changeling" after being snubbed by the academy last year for "A Mighty Heart."
In their way is the indie darling of the moment, Melissa Leo, who gathered momentum for her work in "Frozen River" by grabbing Spirit and SAG nominations. Like "The Visitor's" Richard Jenkins in the lead actor race, she is a veteran who has worked with a lot of academy voters, has been knocking around for a long time and is considered the essence of an actor's actor.
"The opening shot of 'Frozen River' is a haggard woman dragging on a cigarette and in that shot you connect with this woman and you immediately have a sense of who she is. She is utterly convincing and a wonderfully real and tangible character," says film critic Leonard Maltin.
She's competing for a slot with " Rachel Getting Married's" Anne Hathaway and with Kristin Scott Thomas, nominated in 1996 for "The English Patient," who brilliantly brings to life the wounded soul of a woman just released after 15 years in prison in the French-language film "I've Loved You So Long."
The big question in the race is Streep, who not only stars in "Doubt" but had a major worldwide box-office success with her Globe-nominated musical comedy turn in "Mamma Mia!" Even though she already has two Oscars on her mantelpiece, she hasn't won the little fella in 26 years, despite an imposing record of 14 nominations. Is it time to give her a third?
"Meryl Streep shouldn't be penalized for being one of the greatest actresses on the planet. If it seems she's great every time she sets foot on the screen, it's because she is," Maltin says.
Other contenders are longer shots, such as critical darling and Globe musical/comedy nominee Sally Hawkins in "Happy-Go-Lucky" and Michelle Williams, who single-handedly carries the indie "Wendy and Lucy."
There's also Penélope Cruz for her dramatic turn in "Elegy," but she's far more likely to be nominated for supporting actress in Woody Allen's " Vicky Cristina Barcelona," for which she has been the front-runner virtually since the film's debut in Cannes last May.
SAG and Globe nominations make "Doubt's" Amy Adams and Viola Davis high on Oscar's supporting actress list along with "Benjamin Button's" SAG nominee Taraji P. Henson. Also in consideration are "The Wrestler's" Marisa Tomei, "Rachel Getting Married's" duo of Rosemarie DeWitt and Debra Winger and " Burn After Reading's" Frances McDormand. And finally all roads lead back to Kate, as in Winslet.
If she doesn't siphon lead actress votes from herself for "The Reader," in which she gets lead billing, she is likely to gain two nominations by convincing academy voters she is really a supporting player in that film, a strategy that has already resulted in SAG, Globe and Critics' Choice mentions.
It does indeed pay to be a Kate during award season.