Who's up for the Best Actress Oscar
Since the three women on our cover have already discussed the subject of on-screen nudity, let's start by paying tribute to the gutsiest Best Actress contender to strip down this year: Diane Keaton. A nominee in the 1970s (she won for ''Annie Hall''), theÿ 1980s (for ''Reds''), and the 1990s (for ''Marvin's Room''), Keaton, who turned 58 on Jan. 5, should make it four decades in a row for her widely acclaimed comic comeback in ''Something's Gotta Give.'' Speaking of streaks, defending Oscar champion Nicole Kidman could score her third consecutive Best Actress nomination for her touching, modest work in ''Cold Mountain.''
And now to 2003's surprising trio of tough customers: The surest bet is ''Monster'''s Charlize Theron, looking to score her first nomination with a transformative performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos that's being hailed by critics -- including our own -- as astonishing. Oscar voters love it when a beautiful woman gets unbeautiful (see '03 winner Kidman) and when an actress they didn't know had it in her digs out something deep (see '02 winner Halle Berry). Theron succeeds on both counts, as do Jennifer Connelly (who already has an Oscar for ''A Beautiful Mind''), as the alcoholic evictee from ''House of Sand and Fog,'' and Naomi Watts, as the strung-out, grief-racked mother of ''21 Grams.'' Neither scored a Golden Globe nomination, which hurts; both give strong, unflinching performances, which helps.
In fact, motherhood and grief are two major themes among the other contenders. Consider Samantha Morton as a parent struggling to hold her immigrant Irish family together in Jim Sheridan's ''In America''; or Patricia Clarkson, mourning the death of her child in ''The Station Agent''; or Gwyneth Paltrow, who'd be more of a factor if the Sylvia Plath biopic, ''Sylvia,'' had done any business; or Cate Blanchett, searching for her kidnapped daughter in ''The Missing'' (the fact that Blanchett's Globe nomination unexpectedly came for ''Veronica Guerin'' may muddy the voting waters hopelessly for the multitalented actress). And we'd love to see two mothers who give grief get their due, but Jamie Lee Curtis' romp as a woman who turns her daughter's life upside down in ''Freaky Friday'' will probably join a long list of great comic turns ignored by Oscar, and Hope Davis' New York Film Critics Circle award-winning work as the cheating wife and mother of ''The Secret Lives of Dentists'' isn't fresh in voters' minds.
That leaves a few wild cards: Uma Thurman for ''Kill Bill -- Vol. 1'' (too actiony, we think), Helen Mirren, undressing for success and a possible third nomination in ''Calendar Girls'' (too slight, we think), and Scarlett Johansson in '''' (too overshadowed by ''Lost in Translation,'' which we think is more likely to net her a supporting-actress nomination).