Annette Benning, The Kids Are Alright, Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Focus Features; Fox Searchlight

Oscar Watch

The Best Actress category is all about Natalie Portman and Annette Bening. Or, is it the other way around?

Let's sort out the race, and pick our horse. And they're off!

First, it looked like Bening had the lead: 'Cause at the Golden Globes, she won her award about 90 minutes before Portman! (The two competed in separate categories.)

Then, it looked like Portman had the lead: 'Cause she won the SAG and the BAFTA!

Then, it looked like Bening was making a charge: 'Cause pregnancy forced Portman to the PR sidelines! 

Then, it looked like…Oh, never mind: We, the observers, love to imagine Oscar horse races because we've got to do something to keep ourselves busy until the show. The truth is, Portman, or Bening for that matter, has never had "the lead." What Portman—and, in this category, only Portman—has had is the support of voters who count. 

So, the smart money is on: Portman.

And our money is on: Portman.

She won the SAG and the BAFTA because her Black Swan performance cannot be ignored—she's Joan Crawford in ballet slippers, full of crazy, ambition-fueled desperation. 

By comparison, nearly everyone else in the category, from Bening, who's a kick in The Kids Are All Right (but, alas, was even stronger in the passed-over Mother and Child), to Rabbit Hole's Nicole Kidman, to Winter's Bone's Jennifer Lawrence, is a mere mortal. 

Blue Valentine's Michelle Williams arguably pulls off a Black Swan herself. If you wanted to go with a dark horse, you could go with her.

But remember: This isn't really a horse race.

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