By Dave Karger
Updated January 14, 2009 at 12:00 PM EST
Winslet: Francois Duhamel; Streep: Andrew Schwartz; Hathaway: Bob Vergara

The very astute Sasha Stone over at Awards Daily has put forth her theory that this year’s lead acting categories are wide open, in contrast to the Best Picture race, which clearly seems to be going Slumdog Millionaire‘s way. I couldn’t agree more, and I found a interesting statistic to prove the point. In the last five years, every eventual lead-acting Oscar winner, with the exception of La Vie en Rose‘s Marion Cotillard last year, won the Broadcast Critics award and a Golden Globe before picking up the big prize. So in a sense, all the other nine winners — Daniel Day-Lewis, Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker, Reese Witherspoon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hilary Swank, Jamie Foxx, Charlize Theron, and Sean Penn — were basically foregone conclusions come Oscar night. This year, however, is a completely different story. For the first time since 2003, the BFCA winners and Globe winners were different performers in both lead-acting races. Back then, Far From Heaven‘s Julianne Moore won the BFCA prize, while Chicago‘s Renee Zellweger and The Hours‘ Nicole Kidman (the eventual Oscar winner) scored the Globes, and neither the BFCA Best Actor victor (Gangs of New York‘s Daniel Day-Lewis) nor the Globe honorees (About Schmidt‘s Jack Nicholson or Chicago‘s Richard Gere) forecasted the surprise Oscar winner, The Pianist‘s Adrien Brody.

This year the same thing is happening. Sean Penn won the BFCA but couldn’t repeat at the Globes, who recognized Mickey Rourke instead, while Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep tied at the BFCAs only to lose to Kate Winslet at the Globes. At this point (even though the nominations are still a week off), Penn seems like the best bet amongst the Academy but is by no means a lock. Meanwhile, the actress race strikes me as a complete toss-up between Winslet, Hathaway, Streep, and even a total wild-card like this week’s other Globe winner, Sally Hawkins. I’m dreading making my final prediction on this one. But whoever wins that statuette on Feb. 22, I can guarantee it’ll be close.

addCredit(“Winslet: Francois Duhamel; Streep: Andrew Schwartz; Hathaway: Bob Vergara”)