By Kit Bowen

In the last 10 days, Sandra Bullock has emerged the frontrunner in the Best Actress category. It didn’t start out as clear. At the Critics Choice Awards, Bullock tied with Meryl Streep. Then they both won Golden Globes in their respective categories (Bullock, drama; Streep, comedy). But the Screen Actors Guild award to Bullock sealed her fate as the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar. Here’s why:

1. Bullock has had a hell of comeback year – and the Academy loves winners. After a string of flops, the actress bowed out of the limelight for a few years, got married, re-evaluated her career and BAM! came out strong with her hit romantic comedy “The Proposal” last summer. She proved she still had that adorable quirkiness she’s been known for, but with a decided tinge of maturity layered in. But then she did something unexpected; she followed it up with a dramatic turn in the surprising hit sports dramedy “The Blind Side,” wowing critics with her turn as real-life Southern belle Leigh Anne Tuohy, who welcomed a homeless black teenager into her family and helped him achieve his potential as a star football player. On paper, the movie sounds like a big ball of sap, but Bullock’s no-nonsense performance transcends the cliché.

2. The Academy also loves it when a movie star steps out of her comfort zone and gives a performance unlike anything she’s done before. This has been evident in many of the Best Actress winners of late: Kate Winslet for “The Reader,” Reese Witherspoon for “Walk the Line,” Nicole Kidman for “The Hours,” Charlize Theron for “Monster,” Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball,” Julia Roberts for “Erin Brockovich. You get the point. Bullock falls into that pattern rather succinctly.

3. None of the other potential Best Actress nominees have the perfect storm riding them to the top like Bullock. Newbies Carey Mulligan for “An Education” and Gabourney Sidibe for “Precious” are just starting out and will perhaps have many nominations ahead of them. Helen Mirren for “The Last Station” is just a throw-in. Only Streep poses any real competition, but many could argue her turn as the delightfully upbeat Julia Child in “Julie & Julia” is really more of a supporting role, since her screen time splits with Amy Adam’s modern-day character Julie. Of course, Streep’s immaculate skills leaves an indelible impression even when she isn’t on the screen, so it SEEMS like she’s in it a lot more than she is. That’s just Meryl Streep doing what she does so incredibly well; she can’t help herself. Look, Streep is probably THE greatest actress of all time, of that I’m certain, but she already has two statuettes of her very own, plus the Academy usually passes on giving the Oscar to comedic performances. It’s still great to have her name on the list, though, because – as any actress would tell you, I’m sure – Streep sets the bar, and they should all aspire to reach it.

No, I firmly believe this is going to be Sandy’s year – and if she’s finally found her groove again (and has decided to stop making movies like “Premonition”), Ms. Bullock could be reaping the rewards for her particular skill set for years to come.