Gabourey Sidibe in PreciousThose who think Hollywood favors only the young should take heart, because this year's crop of Oscar-nominated actors are almost all over 35 -- which makes the nominations of young actresses Anna Kendrick, 24, Carey Mulligan, 25, and Gabourey Sidibe, 26, all the more remarkable. The trio of first-time nominees (best actress hopeful Mulligan starred in 'An Education,' Sidibe in 'Precious,' and Kendrick has a supporting nod for 'Up in the Air') joins a select group of extraordinary actors -- many of them precocious kids and teens -- who have captivated the Academy's attention.

Here's a look at Oscar's golden wunderkinds, from scarily gifted tweens like Tatum O'Neal and Anna Paquin to teen stars River Phoenix and Leo DiCaprio, to breakout twentysomething ingenues from the Big-Studio Era like Jennifer Jones and Audrey Hepburn.

James Dean, John Travolta and Heath Ledger

Best Actor Nominees

Jackie Cooper was only 9 years old when he was nominated for playing the titular character in 1931's 'Skippy,' a popular comic-strip adaptation about a boy who befriends a kid from the wrong side of the tracks.

Mickey Rooney was nominated twice early in his career -- at 19 for his musical comedy 'Babes in Arms' (1939) with Judy Garland,* and at 23 for the war drama 'The Human Comedy' (1943).

John Travolta was a swaggering heartthrob of 24 when his performance as 'Saturday Night Fever' disco hunk Tony Manero earned him a nomination in 1978.

James Dean is the only actor to receive two posthumous acting nominations. What's even more incredible is that they were in different years -- 1956 for 'Giant' and 1957 for 'East of Eden.' He would've been 25 or 26 at the time of his nominations.

Ryan Gosling landed his first nomination (surely there will be more) at age 26 for playing an inner city middle-school teacher with a secret crack addiction in the acclaimed independent drama 'Half Nelson' (2006).

Orson Welles was 26 when he earned a Best Actor (along with Best Director and Best Original Screenplay) for his magnum opus 'Citizen Kane' (1941). He and co-writer Herman J. Manciewicz went on to win Best Original Screenplay, which is amazingly the movie's only Oscar.

Heath Ledger was also 26 when his portrayal of Ennis Del Mar, a conflicted cowboy in love with another man, earned him a nod for 'Brokeback Mountain' in 2006.

Did You Know? Only three actors under 25 have ever been nominated for Best Actor, and the youngest winner is 'The Pianist' star Adrien Brody, who was 29 when he upset heavily favored 'Gangs of New York' nominee Daniel Day-Lewis in 2000. The next two youngest winners were 30-year-olds Richard Dreyfuss ('The Goodbye Girl') and Marlon Brando ('On the Waterfront').

Kate Winslet, Julia Roberts and Marlee Matlin
Best Actress Nominees

Keisha Castle-Hughes was only 13 years old when she earned a nomination for her touching, unforgettable role as a young Maori girl in 'Whale Rider' (2002).

Isabelle Adjani was a relatively unknown foreign ingenue when her turn as French poet Adele Hugo in Francois Truffaut's historical drama 'The Story of Adele H.' earned the 20-year-old an Oscar nod.

Keira Knightley had already been a star for several years when, at age 20, she became an Oscar nominee for playing Elizabeth Bennet in Joe Wright's adaptation of 'Pride & Prejudice' (2005).

Ellen Page was 20 when her performance as a precocious pregnant teenager in 'Juno' (2007) resulted in dozens of critics' best-actress awards, a Golden Globe nod and an Academy Award nomination.

Marlee Matlin is still the youngest actress to win a Best Actress award. The actress was 21 when her portrayal of a deaf student who falls in love with her teacher in 'Children of a Lesser God' (1986) landed her the Oscar.

Elizabeth Hartman had never been in a film before she played a blind 18-year-old who falls in love with a black man (Sidney Poitier) in the racially charged drama 'A Patch of Blue' (1965). Hartman was 22.

Kate Winslet received her second of six nominations at age 22 for playing Rose to Leo DiCaprio's Jack in James Cameron's romantic epic 'Titanic' (1997).

Janet Gaynoris the second-youngest to win a Best Actress statuette. At the very first Academy Awards, Gaynor, then 22, won for her performances in three 1928 films: 'Seventh Heaven,' 'Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans' and 'Street Angel.'

Leslie Caron may have been 22, but she was already an established singer and dancer when her titular role in the MGM circus musical 'Lili' (1953) charmed the Academy.

Julia Roberts, at 23, won more than just an on-screen fairy-tale ending as Vivian, the hooker with a heart of gold, in 'Pretty Woman' (1990); she also got her second consecutive nomination (the first was for Supporting Actress in 'Steel Magnolias').

Did You Know? Not only is Matlin the youngest Best Actress winner, but she also won for her very first film role, a much more common occurrence in the supporting categories. Unlike the Best Actor winners, who with the exception of Adrien Brody were all 30 and older, several actresses in their mid-20s have won: Gaynor, Audrey Hepburn ('Roman Holiday'), Joan Fontaine ('Suspicion') and Jennifer Jones ('The Song of Bernadette') were 24 when they earned their statuettes, and Grace Kelly ('The Country Girl'), Julie Christie ('Darling'), and Hilary Swank ('Boys Don't Cry') were all 25.

Justin Henry, Timothy Hutton and Leonardo DiCaprio
Best Supporting Actor Nominees

Justin Henry was 9 years old when he picked up a nomination for playing the son of, and object of a custody battle between, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in 'Karmer vs. Kramer' (1979).

Haley Joel Osment saw dead people in 'The Sixth Sense' (1999), and for his chilling performance, the 11-year-old won the respect of critics and an Oscar nomination.

Brandon De Wilde played a homesteader's young son in the critically acclaimed Western 'Shane' (1953), and at age 11 snagged an Oscar nomination.

Jack Wild was a popular young English actor who at 16 got Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for playing Artful Dodger in the musical 'Oliver!' (1968).

Sal Mineo earned two nominations in five years: At 17 he was honored for his role opposite James Dean in 'Rebel Without a Cause' (1955) and at 22 for his portrayal of a Zionist rebel in 'Exodus' (1960).

River Phoenix showed his promise as an actor early in his teens, going on to earn his only Academy Award nomination at 18 for Sidney Lumet's 'Running On Empty' (1988).

Leonardo DiCaprio may not have grabbed a nomination for 'Titanic,' but four years earlier the 18-year-old received his first of three Academy nominations in 1994 for 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape.'

Timothy Hutton is still the youngest man to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar; Hutton was 20 years old when his role as a troubled son in 'Ordinary People' (1980) led to his Academy win.

Did You Know? Hutton is the youngest winner by seven years. The next youngest were 'West Side Story' hoofer George Chakiris (27), 'Jerry Maguire' scene-stealer Cuba Gooding, Jr. (29), and posthumous recipient Heath Ledger, who died at age 29 before 'The Dark Knight' was even released. Clearly younger actors have a harder time nabbing an Academy Award than their female colleagues.

Anna Paquin, Tatum O'Neal and Jodie Foster
Best Supporting Actress Nominees

Tatum O'Neal remains the youngest actor, male or female, to win an Oscar that's not honorary. She was 10 when her performance as a child con artist in 'Paper Moon' (1973) was recognized by the Academy.

Mary Badhamwas Scout Finch in the 1962 adaptation of 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' and her terrific performance earned the 10-year-old a nomination.

Quinn Cummingswas 10 when her role as Marsha Mason's mouthy daughter in 'The Goodbye Girl' (1977) earned her (and Mason ... and Richard Dreyfuss) an Oscar nomination.

Abigail Breslin managed to make critics, audiences and the Academy love her in 'Little Miss Sunshine' (2006), which earned her a nomination at age 10.

Patty McCormackplayed such a convincing manipulative, murderous girl in 'The Bad Seed' (1955), it was almost inevitable that she'd receive a nomination; she was 11.

Anna Paquin not only got the nomination but also won the award at age 11 for her standout performance as Holly Hunter's daughter in 'The Piano' (1993).

Saoirse Ronan arguably out-acted the entire cast of 'Atonement' (2007) and earned a well-deserved nod at age 13 for playing a fanciful but misguided daughter of privilege.

Jodie Fosterastonished critics with her nuanced portrayal of a teen prostitute in Martin Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver,' so her first nomination, at age 14, was expected.

Bonita Granvillewas nominated at 14for her performance as a hateful, lying student in 'These Three' (1936) -- an adaptation of Lillian Hellman's controversial play 'The Children's Hour.'

Linda Blair made such an impact in her head-rolling performance as a possessed teen in 'The Exorcist' (1973), that it surprised no one when the 15-year-old received an Oscar nomination.

Did You Know? Child actresses have fared far better than their male counterparts, with three under-18 actresses who've won (O'Neal, Paquin, and 16-year-old Patty Duke for 'The Miracle Worker') and five under-25 winners (Anne Baxter, Angelina Jolie, Goldie Hawn, Teresa Wright, and Jennifer Hudson).

*Judy Garlandwasn't nominated for 1939's 'The Wizard of Oz' (nor for 'Babes in Arms,' like her co-star Mickey Rooney), because the Academy awarded her a miniature-sized honorary Oscar called The Juvenile Award. Other recipients included Shirley Temple, Rooney, Deanna Durbin and Hayley Mills. The Academy only bestowed it 12 times from 1934 to 1961 before it was officially retired. It makes you wonder how many of the above under-aged nominees would've earned one had the Academy continued the tradition.
categories Features, Oscars