LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Win or lose at Sunday's Oscar ceremony, British actress Kate Winslet will enter Academy Award history.
Winslet, 33, will either walk past her chief rival, Meryl Streep, to collect her first Oscar for her performance as a woman with a secret Nazi past in "The Reader," or share the dubious title of biggest loser for having been nominated for the coveted honor, and lost, six times.
The betting in Hollywood ahead of the February 22 ceremony for the world's top film awards is that Winslet should be getting her acceptance speech ready.
"I think it is her time. When Academy members are voting, they are going to be thinking not just of 'The Reader' but of 'Revolutionary Road,'" said Hollywood.com movie critic Pete Hammond, when talking about the two movies starring Winslet that were released within weeks of each other in 2008.
"That is pretty daunting when you have two great performances like that back to back," Hammond said.
The three other best actress nominees are Anne Hathaway as a resentful sister in "Rachel Getting Married," Melissa Leo in border smuggling drama "Frozen River" and Angelina Jolie playing a mother searching for her child in "Changeling."
Winslet, who parlayed art house success into international stardom in "Titanic" in 1997, has already picked up two Golden Globes for her role as a German woman with a teenage lover and a secret in "The Reader" and as a frustrated 1950s American housewife in "Revolutionary Road."
She has also won BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild Awards, and in emotional speeches, she has expressed shock at her wins after smiling bravely from her seat so often in the past.
"Kate is way overdue. One more loss and she will be tied at six as Oscar's biggest losing actress with Deborah Kerr and Thelma Ritter. And at the age of 33, that would be terrible," said Tom O'Neil of awards website TheEnvelope.com.
"Kate has a solid lead. She is in a Holocaust movie, speaking with a foreign accent, she ages dramatically and she looks great naked -- all key elements for a win," he said.
Streep, 59, a two-time Oscar winner has a record of her own as the most-nominated actor or actress ever in Academy Award history with 15 previous nods.
Although a popular winner at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January for her role as a suspicious nun in "Doubt," the last Oscar Streep took home was for 1982's "Sophie's Choice."
Streep admitted last month that losing was tough. "When you lose you think 'my work wasn't any good,'" Streep told the ABC news program "Nightline." "But it's an honor to be nominated, and it is! It is. But you just feel worse when you lose than you did before you got nominated."
Streep's turn in "Doubt" -- a tense drama of suspected sex abuse in the Catholic Church in the 1960s -- was a reminder of her versatility in a year that also saw her comic turn as the singing mom in musical blockbuster "Mamma Mia!"
"I thought it was a wonderful performance," said film scholar Richard Schickel of Streep's work in "Doubt." "But people say Meryl always gives a good performance."
Jolie, Hathaway and Leo are considered long shots, yet O'Neil notes that Academy voters often are full of surprises and anything could happen Oscar night.
"These 6,000 or so Oscar voters are bullheaded contrarians," he said. "Every time we think we've got them figured out, they remind us how eccentric they are. And that's what makes the Oscar race fun."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte