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It's a woman's world at this year's Oscars

Precious (Gabourey Sidibe, left) and Mary (Mo'Nique, right)

Precious (Gabourey Sidibe, left) and Mary (Mo'Nique, right) in the movie "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire." Sidibe received an Oscar nomination for best actress, while Mo'Nique got an Oscar nod for best supporting actress. Photo Credit: Lionsgate Films

Judging by the year's Oscar nominees, the movie business is looking a lot like the music industry.

Not because of profits: Movies pulled in $10.5 billion in ticket sales last year, a 10 percent increase over 2008, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, while album sales continued their years-long slide.

But both industries are being energized by an increasingly popular type of entertainer: female. In Hollywood, established stars like George Clooney and Matt Damon still draw major crowds and command big salaries, but the buzz this year has been largely about the ladies, many of them relative newcomers and some of them very young. Record executives who recently watched Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga sweep the Grammys probably know the feeling.

What's more, we're not talking about the usual teen-flick babes or thinly sketched love-interest roles. Look down the list of Oscar actress nominees - both supporting and leading - and you'll see a range of dynamic performances: an illiterate Harlem teenager, a brainy British schoolgirl, a coldhearted downsizing expert. And for the most part, these female stars keep their clothes on.

Granted, there's always an It Girl who can't live up to the title (remember Gretchen Mol?), a major talent who never quite goes A-list (Andie MacDowell) and starlets who fall victim to typecasting (just ask anyone who was ever called a Brat Packer). Here's hoping these women are smarter, savvier and more ambitious so we can keep seeing them in the future.

Vera Farmiga

AGE 36

MOVIE "Up in the Air"

OSCAR NOD Supporting actress

BACK STORY Given her skyscraper cheekbones and fiery blue-green eyes, Farmiga has taken a while to draw the spotlight. Even after a major part in Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning "The Departed," as the therapist torn between Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, stardom eluded her. Subsequent roles included a Nazi's wife in "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," a wheelchair fetishist in the creepy "Quid Pro Quo" and a grieving mother in the almost-decent horror flick "Orphan." Now, as a sexually adventurous frequent-flier in "Up in the Air," she seems like the first female star who's ever made George Clooney look like a lovestruck sap.

NEXT Motherhood. Farmiga gave birth to a son, Fynn, two weeks before filming "Up in the Air."

PHOTOS: Best supporting actress nominees

VOTE: Who should win an Oscar for best supporting actress?

 

Anna Kendrick

AGE 24

MOVIE "Up in the Air"

OSCAR NOD Supporting actress

BACK STORY Until now, Kendrick was best known as the bubbleheaded Jessica Stanley in the "Twilight" series - a minor role that gave little hint of her abilities. But as Natalie Keener, a high-strung, overambitious young businesswoman in "Up in the Air," Kendrick earned her Oscar nomination with a hilarious scene in which a break-up text message prompts a meltdown in an airport. The National Board of Review named her best supporting actress for the role.

NEXT The antagonistic older sister of Michael Cera in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," a comedy-romance based on a comic book series by Bryan Lee O'Malley.

PHOTOS: Best supporting actress nominees

VOTE: Who should win an Oscar for best supporting actress?

 

Carey Mulligan

AGE 24

MOVIE "An Education"

OSCAR NOD Leading actress

BACKSTORY Playing a clever but immature British schoolgirl seduced by an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) in this bittersweet coming-of-age story, Mulligan became not just a star, but a kind of Audrey Hepburn or Julie Christie - an on-screen personality you could fall in love with. Keen-eyed moviegoers may remember her as Kitty Bennet in 2005's "Pride and Prejudice," but critics first fell hard for her as Nina in 2008's Britain-to-Broadway production of Chekhov's "The Seagull" (opposite Sarsgaard here in the States).

NEXT Gordon Gekko's daughter in Oliver Stone's upcoming "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," opposite Shia LaBeouf.

PHOTOS: Best actress nominees

VOTE: Who should win an Oscar for best actress?

 

Mo'Nique

AGE 42

MOVIE "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

OSCAR NOD Supporting actress

BACK STORY The comedian, born Monique Imes, rose to fame doing stand-up but eventually became a one-woman television brand with series like "Mo'Nique's Fat Chance" (a contest for plus-size women) and her new late-night entry, "The Mo'Nique Show." But it was director Lee Daniels (he produced "Monster's Ball," which earned Halle Berry a best actress Oscar), who cast Mo'Nique against type as an abusive mother in "Precious." Her stunning performance has made her an Oscar front-runner; she already has won a Golden Globe for the role.

NEXT It's back to her stand-up roots for the "Spread the Love Tour," a 20-date run that comes to the Theatre at Madison Square Garden April 24.

PHOTOS: Best supporting actress nominees

VOTE: Who should win an Oscar for best supporting actress?

 

Gabourey Sidibe

AGE 26

MOVIE "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire"

OSCAR NOD Leading actress

BACK STORY Sidibe was raised in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant and made her screen debut as an illiterate Harlem teenager named Claireece "Precious" Jones in this urban drama. Growing up in a rough neighborhood wasn't the only thing Sidibe shared with her character: Both are morbidly obese, with Precious variously described as weighing 300 to 350 pounds. (Sidibe weighs less, however.) Sidibe's performance reveals the kind of bravery - at one point she eats an entire bucket of fried chicken - that few other young actors would risk.

NEXT The indie film "Yelling to the Sky," also starring Zoë Kravitz and Tim Blake Nelson.

PHOTOS: Best actress nominees

VOTE: Who should win an Oscar for best actress?

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