1. Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
After taking home a Golden Globe® and a Screen Actors Guild® (SAG) award for her role in The Blind Side, actress Sandra Bullock became an early Oscar favorite. During her SAG acceptance speech, Bullock said she stopped acting for a few years because she wasn't doing good work...but her fans might disagree. Since Bullock took the wheel in the 1994 action hit Speed, she's been one of Hollywood's top-earning actresses.
In The Blind Side, Bullock helps bring NFL star Michael Oher's inspiring true story to the big screen. Bullock is nominated for her portrayal of Oher's adoptive mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, a Southern spitfire with a commanding presence and charming drawl. From the moment she comes on screen, Bullock is the heart of this feel-good hit.
Photo: Sony Pictures Classic
2. Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Golden Globe®, Emmy® and BAFTA®-winning British actress Dame Helen Mirren has entertained audiences for four decades. Helen has starred as a woman who bares it all in Calendar Girls and as a housekeeper in Gosford Park—but she is perhaps best known for playing queens, a role she has mastered five times over. In 2007, Mirren took home the Best Actress Oscar statuette for her royal performance as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen.
In The Last Station, Mirren ditches the crown to play Sofya Tolstoy, wife to Russian literary icon Leo Tolstoy. The film documents the final months of Tolstoy's life and his decision to leave his literary catalogue to the Russian people, which angers his emotional wife. Mirren's character fights her husband's decision with dramatic outbursts, manipulation and threats.
Photo: Sony Pictures Classic
3. Carey Mulligan, An Education
At just 24 years old, this British actress has accomplished what many Hollywood veterans only dream of. Mulligan got her start in 2005 when she landed the role of Kitty Bennet in the acclaimed remake of Pride & Prejudice. Then, Mulligan co-starred on the British television drama Bleak House and took small roles in high-profile films like Brothers and Public Enemies.
In 2009, critics began to take notice of this Audrey Hepburn lookalike with the release of An Education, the coming-of-age story of Jenny, a 16-year-old girl growing up near London in the 1960s. Jenny—played brilliantly by Mulligan—almost gives up her dream of attending Oxford University after she falls for a man twice her age.
4. Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
At age 26, Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe made her acting debut as the title character in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. In the film, this New York native delivers a raw and intensely emotional performance as Clareece "Precious" Jones, an overweight teenager who's beaten by her mother, Mary (played by Mo'Nique), and sexually abused by her father, the man who fathered her two children.
Sidibe may be new to Hollywood, but she's already an awards show darling. She's been nominated for a Golden Globe®, Screen Actors Guild Award®, NAACP Image Award® and countless others since Precious won big at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009.
5. Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Meryl Streep is in a league of her own. One of the most celebrated actors of modern times, Streep has received 16 Oscar nominations, more than any actor or actress in the history of the awards. She has won two—the first for Best Actress in Sophie's Choice and the second for Best Supporting Actress in Kramer vs. Kramer. Last year, she was nominated for her portrayal of Sister Aloysius in the film adaptation of the John Patrick Shanley play Doubt.
This year, Streep traded the nun's habit for an apron to bring the queen of French cuisine, Julia Child, to the big screen. Julie & Julia interweaves Julia's life in the late 1940s with the life of modern-day blogger Julie Powell. From the flick of her whisk to her distinctive accent, Streep honors this culinary icon with an unforgettable performance.