Hollywood might be a boy's club, but the Oscars are all about the girls. When it comes to nominating the best performances of the year, there's always a strange gender imbalance. Young, hunky actors (Christian Bale, Joseph Fiennes, Colin Farrell, James Franco, even Leonardo DiCaprio for Titanic) never seem to make the final cut. But when it comes to ingenues, it's a different story. This year, two of the best-actress nominees played teenagers: Carey Mulligan (An Education) and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious). Both actresses are only in their 20s, which means one of two things. They're either about to be superstars—or we'll never hear from them again. The Academy has a mixed track record for recognizing young talent. Here's a look back:
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose (2008), best-actress winner.
The role: The French warbler Edith Piaf.
Career: Up. She followed Rose with Michael Mann's Public Enemies, Rob Marshall's Nine and Christopher Nolan's upcoming Inception.
Ellen Page, Juno (2008), best-actress nominee.
The role: A wisecracking pregnant high school teenager who gives up her baby to a married couple.
Career: Sideways. She was lovely as the star of Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, Whip It, but hardly anybody saw it. Can she ever break away from her breakout role?
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement (2007), best-supporting-actress nominee.
The role: A young English girl who turns out to be an unreliable witness.
Career: Sideways. Landing the lead in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones was a coup. Then the movie bombed.
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls (2006), best-supporting-actress winner.
The role: A talented singing diva—basically the part she never got to play on American Idol.
Career: Up and down, depending on which career you're talking about. Her debut 2008 album was a smash hit, and she sold out Madison Square Garden (a feat Kelly Clarkson hasn't even recently accomplished). As for her acting career, not so good—she wasn't even asked back for the Sex and the City sequel.
Amy Adams, Junebug (2005), best-supporting-actress nominee.
The role: A pregnant Southerner stranded in a small town.
Career: Up. Became a box-office star as the princess in Enchanted and then held her own against Meryl Streep—twice (Doubt, which earned her a second Oscar nomination, and Julie and Julia).
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace (2004), best-actress nominee.
The role: A pregnant teenager—what's with all these pregnancies?—from Colombia who becomes a drug mule.
Career: Down. She followed with a handful of small, unmemorable roles, but at least she'll be in the next Twilight movie.
Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider (2003), best-actress nominee.
The role: Sort of like Free Willy, but with an 11-year-old girl from New Zealand.
Career: Down. After playing Mary in 2006's The Nativity Story, she essentially disappeared after she became pregnant in real life.
Kate Hudson, Almost Famous (2000), best-supporting-actress nominee.
The role: A blonde, cheerful groupie of a 1970s rock band.
Career: Down. We're simply going to list her career choices after that—Dr. T and the Women, The Four Feathers, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Alex & Emma, Le Divorce, Raising Helen, The Skeleton Key, You, Me & Dupree, Fool's Gold, My Best Friend's Girl, Bride Wars. 'nough said.
Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry (1999), best-actress winner.
The role: A transgendered teenager living in a small town where nobody seems to understand her.
Career: More ups and downs than a roller coaster. After her Oscar win, she appeared in forgettable films like The Gift and The Affair of the Necklace. Then she won a second Oscar for Million Dollar Baby—and followed that with with (yawn!) Freedom Riders, P.S. I Love You, and Amelia.
Minnie Driver, Good Willing Hunting (1997), best-supporting-actress nominee.
The role: Matt Damon's love interest, on screen and (briefly) in real life.
Career: Sideways. The best thing to come out of her Oscar nomination was playing the voice of Jane in Disney's Tarzan. But she's had a career comeback on TV, in Will and Grace and The Riches.
Kate Winslet, Sense and Sensibility (1995), best-supporting-actress nominee.
The role: Marianne Dashwood in Emma Thompson's adaptation of the Jane Austen novel.
Career: Do we even need to answer that question? A total of six Oscar nominations, starring in the now-second-highest-grossing movie of all time, an Oscar win for The Reader, and widely regarded as the best actress of her generation. Nicely done.