If what we have seen so far in 2010, the Best Actress race could be the most exciting we have seen in some time. (Certainly more exciting than the actors at the moment, in a nice change of pace.) You can cut off the deadline right now and fill out a list of five that I believe most award watchers and movie lovers could not only live with but accept as an exemplary representation of the category. And it is only August. Which means at least two or three spots are practically destined to be taken over and we will once again bemoan the Academy's memory for pre-September cinema. Still, without finalizing our list at the moment, there are already two performances that are going to be difficult not to consider close-to-locks. But, mind you again, it is only August.



The moment the first screening of Winter's Bone ended at Sundance this year, the buzz started on Jennifer Lawrence's performance as the 16 year-old trying to solve her criminal father's disappearance and keep her family home in the Ozarks. Both Carey Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe both made the long trek from Park City to the Oscars last year, though their films opened in October & November, respectively. Winter's Bone and its June release will likely be kept in the voter consciousness when Lawrence's name comes up as the winner on a number of critics' awards come December.

The one who may be the name to beat as we speak though is actually Julianne Moore as the adulteress lesbian mother in The Kids Are All Right. Politics and how Mark Ruffalo's character is eventually treated aside, Moore's turn is her best since one of her last Oscar-nominated roles in 2002's Far From Heaven. (She was a double nominee that year for The Hours.) Expectation that she was in line for a supporting nod for last year's A Single Man will be made up for this year almost certainly, and with four unrewarded nominations under her belt, it could finally be her time.

And just look at the names that you could fill out a list of five with so far: Patricia Clarkson (Cairo Time), Greta Gerwig (Greenberg), Katie Jarvis (Fish Tank), Catherine Keener or Rebecca Hall (Please Give), Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Rachel Weisz (Agora). One tough girl debut is enough to discount Jarvis' chances, an underdog on any list but no less a performance. Gerwig will probably end up on many year-end award lists as the "breakthrough performer," despite having a number of acclaimed indies already on her resume. We haven't even mentioned Ellen Burstyn in the wonderful twilight romance (no vampires, just naturally old folks in love), Lovely Still, which gets a limited release in September.

The Awards Marathon column will continue to make rankings based only on what footage is available. A fully, finished screening will always get more points than third-party buzz and speculation without the benefit of even a trailer. Two trailers debuted this past week that might have put a past nominee and a past winner into the conversation. We got our first looks at James L. Brooks How Do You Know and Edward Zwick's Love and Other Drugs, and the most surprising thing was how much Zwick's film actually felt more Brooks than JLB himself. Both look like potential winners in the smart, adult romantic dramedy departments, but many eyes will be on Anne Hathaway in Zwick's film. Not because the trailer (and early reports) suggesting a scrumptious amount of skin from her, but the role may have many of the free-wheelin', scene-stealin' elements with the necessary grounded edge that will make her a favorite for a nomination by the end of the year.

Reese Witherspoon, on the other hand, has the benefit of Mr. James L. Brooks who writes great parts for women. Through five films, three of his leading ladies got Best Actress nods (Shirley MacLaine, Holly Hunter, Helen Hunt) and two of them won. (CORRECTION: FOUR Best Actress nods including Debra Winger.) Many seem to write off Tea Leoni's work in Spanglish, but that may have been more for her hyperactive performance than the character as written. (Both worked fine for me.) Witherspoon's role looks a lot more grounded. Will she manage to standout though surrounded by Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson though?

Other performances to keep an eye on include: Gemma Arterton as the saucy temptress in Stephen Frears' Tamara Drewe, Jessica Chastain as the young Helen Mirren happy to kill Nazis with her legs in John Madden's The Debt, Diane Lane as the prized horse owner in Secretariat, Freida Pinto as Palestinian war activist Miral and Hilary Swank going to law school to save her brother in Conviction. Focus may want to submit Annette Bening into the supporting category for her work in The Kids Are All Right, just to spare everyone the potential smack of losing to Hilary Swank for a third time.

Four names that could figure into either category this year are Rebecca Hall with strong work in Please Give, Red Riding: 1974 and an impending role in Ben Affleck's The Town. Sally Hawkins is fighting for equal pay in Made in Dagenham and as one of Halisham's teachers from Never Let Me Go. Carey Mulligan, already with The Greatest under her belt this year, is also Halisham's Kathy H. in Never Let Me Go and Gordon Gekko's daughter in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Finally, there is Chloe Moretz, who stole the show in Kick-Ass and couldn't be more perfectly cast as the young vampire in Matt Reeves' Let the Right One In remake, Let Me In.

Other films and performances are destined to come into play. As soon as we get fuller looks at Naomi Watts in Fair Game, Natalie Portman in Black Swan and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, amongst others, we'll examine their chances as well. In the meantime:

IF THE NOMINATIONS CAME OUT NEXT WEEK (IT MIGHT LOOK LIKE)
1. Julianne Moore "The Kids are All Right"
2. Jennifer Lawrence "Winter's Bone"
3. Greta Gerwig "Greenberg"
4. Noomi Rapace "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
5. Katie Jarvis "Fish Tank"

THEIR TOP COMPETITORS (BASED ON TRAILERS ONLY)
1. Anne Hathaway "Love and Other Drugs"
2. Sally Hawkins "Made in Dagenham"
3. Diane Lane "Secretariat"
4. Hilary Swank "Conviction"
5. Reese Witherspoon "How Do You Know"

RANKING SUPPORTING ACTRESS (TODAY)
1. Annette Bening "The Kids Are All Right"
2. Sissy Spacek "Get Low"
3. Marion Cotillard "Inception"
4. Michelle Williams "Shutter Island"
5. Chloe Moretz "Kick-Ass"

THEIR TOP COMPETITORS (BASED ON TRAILERS ONLY)
1. Keira Knightley "Never Let Me Go"
2. Hiam Abbass "Miral"
3. Elle Fanning "Somewhere"
4. Gemma Jones "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"
5. Helen Mirren "The Debt"

Next week we take a look at the guys. And don't forget about last week's Best Picture race. It's already changing.