I've been wracking my brain trying to think of exceptional lead actresses to nominate this year. Just in time, Felicity Huffman slaughters any potential competition in a brave, absorbing turn as Bree, a 40-ish pre-operative man-to-woman transsexual.

One week away from gender reassignment surgery, Bree receives a call from 17-year-old Toby (Kevin Zegers), the son she never knew she had fathered back when she was a young man named Stanley. A hustler and drug addict living in New York, Toby contacts Bree (asking for Stanley), needing someone to bail him out of a juvenile detention center. Against her better judgment, Bree flies to New York to meet Toby, but doesn't tell him who she is, instead posing as a member of a Christian charitable foundation. She offers to drive Toby cross-country back to her home state California, where he hopes for a career in gay porn.

Despite the contrived set-up, a few dry patches, and Zeger's limited acting capability (he comes off as a young Michael Pitt, who would've been better for the part), director Duncan Tucker's first feature is an affable character study: it concludes plausibly and avoids the sentimental abyss. But Huffman, wow--even if you already thought she was spectacular on Desperate Housewives and Sports Night, she's just a revelation here. Convincing and nearly unrecognizable in her physical appearance and deep, low voice, she plays Bree as the dignified, multi-faceted being she deserves to be, and the conflicting concerns she has throughout feel real and affecting. Never shying away from the emotional and psychological ramifications of someone in Bree's situation, TRANSAMERICA is still very much a comedy, but it's no tranny joke. (4/5)