And the five leading ladies are...
Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married
This rising star proves herself in a career-best performance in one of the year's best films. Even in the midst of this often frenetic film, with its ever expanding ensemble, your eyes are always on Kym. Perfection.
Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky
For taking what could have felt like a stock character and giving her depth and purpose. Another finely honed female performance under Mike Leigh's expert direction.
Melissa Leo in Frozen River
A standout performance from a longtime respectable character actress. She always knows exactly what she's doing, even if the film doesn't.
Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy
This is a film whose power has to lie in what is essentially its only central performance. Williams steps up to the task admirably, and never oversells the big moments.
Kate Winslet in The Reader
She'll likely receive an Oscar nod in lead for Revolutionary Road, but she is far better here and by a wide margin. It's more than an accent, it's more than aging makeup. Kate Winslet full inhabits Hanna Schmitz in one of her most raw and fearless performances to date.
Runners Up: Ludivine Sagnier is superb in A Girl Cut in Two. Rebecca Hall is wonderfully neurotic and forceful in Vicky Cristina Barcelona upon second viewing. Kate Winslet does marital strife up right in Revolutionary Road (but she's so much better in The Reader. Seriously, it's a complete no brainer). Man, did Julianne Moore ever try to make something out of Blindness.