In a business that notoriously objectifies women, the Best Actress category has often been criticized for pandering to and attempting to appease those critical of misogynistic Hollywood. This year, however, many strong and vibrant actresses have delivered powerful performances that have triumphed the female strength, mind and cleavage.

Paul Wong
Mommie Dearest: Julie Roberts plays the title character in “”Erin Brockovich.””<br><br>Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The first nominee for the category of best leading actress is Joan Allen. Nominated for her role in “The Contender,” Allen plays Senator Laine Hanson, a vice-presidential nominee, whose past history is put under public scrutiny during her confirmation hearings. Allen must work well under pressure, as she was also nominated for her role as a persecuted witch in 1996″s “The Crucible.” This is Allen”s third nomination, but it doesn”t look like this will be her lucky year though a dependable performance, “The Contender” failed to gain much notice.

Juliette Binoche is the second nominee for Best Actress and is being recognized for her work in Lasse Hallstrom”s “Chocolat.” Binoche plays Vianne Rocher, a mysterious woman who comes to a small French village with her daughter and turns it upside down when she opens a chocolate shop.

Binoche has long been known to a small circle of movie lovers for her roles in such films as “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and Krzysztof Kieslowski”s “Blue,” “White” and “Red” trilogy, but it was only in 1996 that she became widely recognized with her Oscar winning performance in “The English Patient.”

Nominated for her performance in “Requiem for a Dream,” Ellen Burstyn plays Sarah Goldfarb, a housewife in Brooklyn who becomes addicted to diet pills because she wants to get on television. No stranger to Oscar nominations, this is Burstyn”s sixth. However, she has only actually won the Oscar once, for her role in 1974″s “Alice Doesn”t Live Here Anymore” and it doesn”t look like her luck will change, considering “Requiem””s dark tone and limited release.

This year saw the first Oscar nomination for Laura Linney with her star turn in Kenneth Lonergan”s “You Can Count on Me.” Linney plays Sammy Prescott, a single mother whose life gets thrown out of control when her irresponsible brother comes to visit. Linney is by far the smallest name on this year”s best actress list, and because of that, she will probably not come away the winner.

The final nominee and front-runner for this year”s Oscar is Julia Roberts for her role in Steven Soderbergh”s “Erin Brokovich.” The film is based on the true story of a sassy legal assistant who takes on a powerful utilities company after they polluted a community”s water supply. Roberts plays the title role. This is Robert”s third nomination (“Steel Magnolias” in 1989 and “Pretty Woman” in 1990) it looks like the third time just may be a very sweet charm (in the form of a golden statue).

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