Call it the comeback of the year. Maybe even the decade. Unfairly, unfortunately and unavoidably, people have long thought of Jodie Foster, 26, as the girl John Hinckley sought to impress by shooting President Reagan. Her dazzling work as a child prostitute in Taxi Driver, the 1976 film that inspired—if that’s the word—Hinckley’s erotomania, was obscured by the headline horrors of the 1981 assassination attempt. Foster gained weight, lost sleep, ducked photographers and wondered, “Why me?” But the high school valedictorian and the magna cum laude graduate of Yale eventually prevailed. Now she’s being talked about for an Academy Award, for the first time since Taxi Driver. Her passionate, complex portrayal of a gang-rape victim with a questionable past has made The Accused one of the year’s most controversial movies. It also signals Foster’s transformation. She has reduced her unwanted fame as Hinckley’s love fetish to the status of footnote in a major work in progress. This year she served notice of her return, of her maturation as an artist, of her emergence as one of the nation’s finest actresses. The past recedes. A fine future approaches.