The Best Actress category is one of the original Oscar categories. Unlike the Best Actor category, Best Actress tends to favour first time nominees and skews relatively young (which should be no surprise since Hollywood tends to create more roles for young women than older women). The average age of the winners for Best Actress in 35, a number that is slightly inflated due to the fact that Katherine Hepburn won three times past the age of 60 and Jessica Tandy won at 80. For those interested in trivia, it is the only acting category ever to produce an exact tie* when, in 1969, the award was given to both Katherine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand (*in 1932 the Best Actor award was given to two actors though there was actually a small difference in the number of votes each received). More trivia: the record holder for most Oscars won by an actor is Katherine Hepburn with 4.
This year's nominees:
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side: This is the 1st Oscar nomination for Bullock. She has already won the Golden Globe (Drama), the SAG, and tied with Streep for the Critics Choice Award. She seems likely to win the Oscar, something I never would have thought I'd be saying a couple of months ago but that is certainly the way the wind seems to be blowing.
Helen Mirren, The Last Station: This is the 4th nomination for Mirren, who won in 2006 for her work in The Queen. Her work in The Last Station has garnered her nominations for the Golden Globe and SAG.
Carey Mulligan, An Education: This is the 1st nomination for Mulligan who, by all right (at least to my mind) should have been the frontrunner this year. She has received SAG, Golden Globe, BAFTA and Critics Choice nominations, and won the Chicago Film Critics, Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics, National Board of Review, Washington DC Film Critics, and Toronto Film Critics awards.
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Even though Mulligan is the one I'm pulling for, I would love to see Sidibe win because in addition to being excellent in the film, she seems utterly delightful as a person (if you've never seen an interview of her, go track something down on youtube). This is her 1st nomination. She also has nominations from SAG, BAFTA, the Golden Globes, and the Critics Choice Awards.
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia: This is the *drumroll please* 16th nomination for Streep, who has 2 previous wins for Kramer vs Kramer and Sophie's Choice. For her work in Julie & Julia she has already won the Golden Globe, tied with Bullock for the Critics Choice Award, and been nominated for the SAG.