By Amy Ryan
Updated November 13, 2008 at 12:00 PM EST

Today’s Recall the Gold looks back at what may be the most controversial race in the whole series, save for the first one, which was the 1998 Best Picture upset of Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan. It’s the Best Actress race from that same year, when the momentum for Shakespeare also swept leading lady Gwyneth Paltrow up to the podium. I actually think Paltrow did a fine job in her gender-bending role as Will Shakespeare’s lover/muse/costar; she was funny, emotional, and carried off the English accent. But in retrospect, it seems as clear to me now as it did then that Cate Blanchett’s star-making performance in the title role of Elizabeth should have taken the prize. Blanchett took the character from callow schoolgirl to fearsome, isolated monarch, transforming before our eyes. (Trivia note: Both Blanchett and Paltrow played opposite the same love interest, Joseph Fiennes, who was not nominated for either film. Also, while Blanchett did not win for playing Queen Elizabeth I, Judi Dench did, for her supporting role in Shakespeare.)

Also nominated was Meryl Streep (for the 11th time), doing typically excellent work in One True Thing as a dying woman trying to reconnect with her disdainful daughter, but it was for a movie that was otherwise greeted with indifference by both the Academy and moviegoers. Emily Watson did a remarkable job as real-life cellist Jacqueline du Pré, facing down multiple sclerosis with passion and humor in Hilary and Jackie, but the film was probably too-little-seen to have had much impact on the Academy. Fernanda Montenegro may have given the year’s most moving performance as the cynical old woman whose heart is melted by a motherless boy in Central Station, but she lacked the glamor and youth appeal of Paltrow, Blanchett, and Watson, and her Brazilian film may have bumped up against the Academy’s language barrier (though Life Is Beautiful‘s Roberto Benigni managed to leap over it that same year.)

Looking back from today’s perspective, which of these performances doyou think is the best? Vote in our poll, and list your comments below.(For a refresher, watch the clips embedded after the jump, whichmay contain some NSFW language.) Remember, we’ll be running the Recall the Gold surveys every Tuesdayand Thursday until January, so you may go back at any time and vote inthe other polls (click hereto see them all), reexamining the Oscar races of 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25years ago. On Tuesday, Nov. 18, we’ll look at the 2003 Best Picturecompetition. Watch also for commentary and context throughout,including on Dave Karger’s Oscar Watch blog.

addCredit(“Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images”)

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth

Fernanda Montenegro in Central Station

Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love

Meryl Streep in One True Thing

Emily Watson in Hilary and Jackie