| Swank in a scene from Million Dollar Baby
Los Angeles, Feb. 18 (Reuters): Hollywood didn't quite know what to do with Hilary Swank after she emerged from obscurity to win the best actress Oscar in 2000 for chopping off her hair and dressing as a male in the searing transgender movie Boys Don't Cry.
Swank didn't fit the glamourous leading lady mould, was never cut out to be a Hollywood babe and at 25 was too young to be a character actor. But after an undistinguished hiatus, she has come back swinging as a gutsy female boxer whose career is dramatically cut short in Million Dollar Baby.
There's one problem for Swank on her path to a rare second Oscar ' Annette Bening, the classy American Beauty actor Swank beat in 2000 and who is still looking for her own elusive piece of Oscar glory.
Call it a rematch, or as Bening terms it 'a funny coincidence', but the two women are frontrunners again for the best actress Oscar at the February 27 ceremony.
'Five years ago, Hilary Swank came out of nowhere to win the best actress category. It looked for a while as if she was one of those Oscar flukes who we would never hear from again,' said Tom 'Neil, host of the showbiz website goldderby.com.
'So Annette is due and she came back this year to get the Oscar and here's that darn Hilary Swank again,' said 'Neil.
Bening, 46, was considered the early Oscar frontrunner for her role as a luminous English stage diva in Being Julia. She has already won a Golden Globe, National Board of Review and Golden Satellite award for her performance.
But that was before the release of Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby was brought forward to catch the awards season and Swank captured a Golden Globe as well as a Screen Actor's Guild trophy and a slew of critics' awards.
'I think Hilary Swank is probably the frontrunner, even though she's won once before. Annette Bening is charming and wonderful in Being Julia but I think the picture itself is a little lightweight,' said Time magazine movie critic Richard Schickel.
Neither Swank, now 30, nor Bening see it in terms of a rematch. 'I don't experience it that way. We just happen to be giving performances that people like in the same year in movies that are recognised,' Bening said. 'It felt like a funny coincidence. I think Million Dollar Baby is a really special movie and Hilary is great in it.'
British actors Kate Winslet for the quirky romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Imelda Staunton for the 1950s abortion drama Vera Drake along with Colombian newcomer Catalina Sandino Moreno in Maria Full of Grace round out the nominees in the best actress category.