According to a Boston University study, the trend could also be a throwback to Oscar's golden age. From 1927 to 1990, it seems the academy favored veteran actors. In fact, Dench has seen six nods and one win in the last decade of her career, while Mirren was 50 when she received the first of her three nominations.
This year, though, Streep, nominated best actress for her turn in "Doubt," is the only actress older than 50 in a race that includes for Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway and Melissa Leo.
"I would love to be proven wrong, and see Meryl Streep win for her best role since 'Sophie's Choice,'" O'Neil said. "But the babe factor, as I like to call it, comes into play here. It will be Kate Winslet for 'The Reader.' She's in a Holocaust movie, she ages dramatically, she has a foreign accent and she's always naked! The babe factor makes her invincible here."
He points to Oscar's more recent history to prove his point.
"In the past 15 years, only two women over the age of 40 had even won an Oscar in lead or supporting roles," he said. "And that was Judi Dench and Helen Mirren. To win that year, Helen Mirren really played up her sexier, bawdier side, showing off the assets on magazine covers, swearing like a longshoreman on late-night talk shows. It's what got the attention of the academy voters who judge these women as they do a beauty pageant -- shamelessly, and I think insultingly.
"It's usually a parade of lovelies -- Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Charlize Theron. Sure, they're good actresses, but come on," O'Neil added. "Last year, everyone was rooting for Julie Christie, but who won? It's the babe factor again. The youngest, prettiest one. It was suspiciously consistent of this trend perpetuated by an academy of mostly old guys who seem to be lusting after those young gals. It's perfectly OK for men with wrinkles all the time -- they do. But not for the women."
Hollywood's heavy hand played out at the 2006 Academy Awards, the year of the message movie.
Best picture winner "Crash" -- which took three Oscars -- tackled race relations and police brutality. The gay cowboy weeper "Brokeback Mountain" preached tolerance while taking three trophies (out of eight nominations), including best director and best adapted screenplay.
The war-torn "Syriana" -- which earned George Clooney a best actor award -- was all about foreign politics, while Clooney's government witch-hunting-themed Edward R. Murrow biopic, "Good Night, and Good Luck," earned him another three nods, including one for original screenplay.
It didn't win any awards, but the sexual harassment biopic "North Country" earned two nods, including a best actress nomination for Charlize Theron. And Steven Spielberg's anti-terrorism drama "Munich" received five nominations, but no wins.
"That was really the year of the political film," said EW's Karger. "I interviewed George Clooney that year, and I remember him telling me that Hollywood takes a good two years to catch up to what's really going on in the world because the movies take years to get made. So this crop of movies was really Hollywood's reaction to what was going on politically."
Perhaps the meaty, issue-laden nominations were the reason the academy chose politically charged comedian and "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart to shepherd the awards show.