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Oscar Breakdown: Best Actress

The leading lady category is filled with seasoned Oscar nominees -- record-breaking, in fact -- who aren't held back by controversies or lack of campaigning.

Oscar Contenders Lead Actress Split - H 2014

Prior to the 86th Oscars on March 2, THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg will present an eight-part series of posts breaking down the key facts and figures pertaining to each of the "big eight" Oscar categories. (For his predictions, see the weekly "Feinberg Forecast" post.) This post focuses on the best actress Oscar race.

And the nominees for the best actress Oscar at the 86th Oscars are...

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For her accent-shifting, cleavage-baring, no-holds-barred performance in American Hustle, Amy Adams is heading to the Oscars as a nominee for the fifth time in nine years -- this is her second nom in four years for a David O. Russell film and first ever in the leading category -- a rare and remarkable feat. The well-liked redhead has never had a meatier part and is the category's only nominee who has not previously won an Oscar, which could work in her favor among those who keep up with such stats. She has already won the best actress (musical or comedy) Golden Globe Award -- and she has a still-pending BAFTA Award nom, as well.

Cate Blanchett, though, appears to have an even better chance at claiming her second Oscar. (She previously won in the supporting category for The Aviator nine years ago.) The widely-revered thesp has earned some of the year's best reviews for her return to the big screen -- after six years of essentially being away from it -- in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. Allen has said that he wrote the part of a rich wife who loses her money and her husband specifically for her. One downside: unlike Adams, Bullock and Dench, her film is not nominated for the best picture Oscar. Nevertheless, she has already won Critics' Choice, Golden Globe and SAG awards and prizes from the New York Film Critics' Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association and National Society of Film Critics, among many others.

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Sandra Bullock, this category's winner four years ago, is back in the race for her portrayal of an astronaut lost in space in Gravity. Her harrowing performance is all the more remarkable because it was captured with her acting opposite a bunch of machinery that does not in the slightest resemble the world in which she appears in the finished film; all of that was added later with visual effects, some of which didn't exist prior to this film. This is the fourth best picture Oscar nominee that she has anchored in the last nine years. Since winning the lead actress Hollywood Film Award at the outset of this awards season, she has been nominated for Critics' Choice, Golden Globe and SAG awards -- and has a still-pending BAFTA Award nom, as well.

This category's most senior nominee is 79-year-old Judi Dench, who landed her seventh Oscar nom -- all of which have come in the last 16 years, since she turned 63, a record -- for her portrayal of a woman in search of her long-lost child, in Philomena, which is based on the true story of Philomena Lee. Though Dench has not been around to campaign much this awards season, she, like Streep, has the advantage of having Harvey Weinstein campaigning on her behalf. Thus far, she has picked up Critics' Choice, Golden Globe and SAG noms -- and has a still-pending BAFTA Award nom, too.

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And then there is perennial nominee Meryl Streep, whose acknowledgment for her scenery-chewing turn in August: Osage County extended her record number of total acting noms to 18, 15 of which have come in this category. The fact that Streep won this category for the second time -- her third overall Oscar -- just two years ago, along with the widely mixed feelings held toward her film, will probably keep her from picking up another little gold man for her mantelpiece this year. Regardless, she has already picked up Critics' Choice, Golden Globe and SAG noms.

The bottom line: Blanchett is the prohibitive favorite, having already won literally every major award for which she was eligible. Being sucked into the Woody Allen-Dylan Farrow situation has somewhat taken people's attention away from her remarkable performance, but it won't be a game-changer, nor should it be.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg