Having already made a thorough sweep of 2006’s year-end awards, “The Queen’s” Helen Mirren is beyond the safe bet for best actress – she’s currently resting on the most favorable odds in Oscar history. In any category. Ever.

That said, give some appreciation to the rest of the category’s nominees as well. Sure, it feels rather ceremonial to even bother listing the foregone losers in such a clearly dominated category, but aren’t the Oscars all about dutifully proceeding through ceremony?

There’s Kate Winslet, receiving her fifth nomination for another strong (if unspectacular) performance, this time as a cheating housewife in “Little Children.”

There’s Judi Dench, receiving her sixth nomination for being British and aging regally. She’s convincingly creepy as a manipulative old maid in “Notes on a Scandal,” but her performance was nothing that any actress of her generation- Helen Mirren, perhaps? – couldn’t have managed.

There’s Penelope Cruz, receiving her first notable nomination from someone other than Maxim – and deservedly so. Her role in “Volver” is certainly the most important of the also-rans, so don’t just root for her because you’ll get a chance to hear that Spanish-accented purr at the podium (though I would argue this is a legitimate consideration for Oscar voters to keep in mind). In director Pedro Almodovar’s capable hands, Cruz’s luminance in “Volver” extends well beyond her looks.

Then there’s Meryl Streep, receiving her 14th nomination for being Meryl Streep – because honestly, what’s the Oscars without Meryl Streep? This woman earned a nomination instead of a divine smiting for giving inner-city kids the joy of schmaltzy violin in “Music of the Heart.” Hell, she could recreate a dial tone and get nominated for an Oscar. Oh, wait. “Adaptation.” She did.

But watching Meryl shred the self-confidence of her “Devil Wears Prada” assistants with such cold efficiency was a true highlight of last summer. Unfortunately, like Johnny Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” nod, Streep’s nomination here adds up to the Academy simply proving it’s not too snobbish to appreciate commercial hits. The Academy, however, is too snobbish to appreciate commercial hits. Meryl will go home empty-handed this Sunday, although she’ll probably be back next year, too.

— Kristin MacDonald

VERDICT

NOMINEES
Adriana Barraza, “Babel”
Cate Blanchett, “Notes on a Scandal”
Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine” Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”
Rinko Kikuchi, “Babel”

Will win: Helen Mirren
Should win: Helen Mirren

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