Natalie Portman

1. Natalie Portman, Black Swan *WINNER
By all accounts, 2011 seems to be the year of Natalie Portman. Not only did the Israeli-American actress take home a Critics' Choice Award and Golden Globe for her portrayal of the determined ballerina in Black Swan, but she also recently announced that she's expecting her first child with fiancé Benjamin Millepied.

Portman made her film debut at the age of 13, playing a child who befriends a hit man in Luc Besson's The Professional. She continued to show off her acting chops in the mid-90s with major roles in films like Beautiful Girls and Anywhere but Here. Movie-goers everywhere might know her best as Queen Amidala from the Star Wars prequel trilogies, but it is her role in the psychological thriller Black Swan that is capturing the attention of critics and audiences everywhere.
Annette Bening

2. Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Annette Bening is a three-time Oscar® nominee, but she has yet to take home the big prize. Her luck could change this year with her role as the lesbian mom who comes face-to-face with her sperm donor in The Kids Are All Right.

The Kansas-native began her career on the New York stage, where she earned a Tony nomination for her role in Coastal Disturbances. After a few television gigs, Bening made her big-screen debut in the 1988 comedy The Great Outdoors with Dan Aykroyd and John Candy. However, it was her role as a con artist in the 1990 film The Grifters that made Bening a star. She began dating her now-husband Warren Beatty while film the critically-acclaimed Bugsy in 1991. In 1999, she earned praise from critics everywhere with her performance in American Beauty, which earned that year's Best Picture Oscar.
Nicole Kidman

3. Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Nicole Kidman is wowing critics with her performance in Rabbit Hole, in which she plays a happily married woman whose life is turned upside down when her young son dies in a car accident. Kidman is no stranger to Hollywood awards season. The Australian actress is the owner of three Golden Globes, a BAFTA and an Oscar—not to mention countless nominations.

This Aussie actress first caught our attention in 1990, playing Tom Cruise's character's love interest in Days of Thunder. Not only did she go on to marry her leading man, but she finished up the 1990s by earning critics' praise for her roles in Billy Bathgate and To Die For. In 2001, shortly after her marriage to Tom Cruise ended, Kidman made a triumphant turn in Baz Luhrmann's romantic musical Moulin Rouge!. A string of box office- and critical-successes followed, including The Others, The Hours and Cold Mountain. In 2006, she married musician Keith Urban. The couple welcomed daughter Sunday Rose to the world in 2008, and in early 2011, their daughter Faith was born.
Jennifer Lawrence

4. Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
This year, Jennifer Lawrence has earned critics' praise—and an Oscar nod—for her performance in Debra Granik's Winter's Bone. In the dark drama, she plays Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old who is solely responsible for her impoverished Ozark family.

Lawrence first started making waves in Hollywood in 2008 for her role in The Burning Plain, which earned her the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Emerging Actress at the Venice Film Festival. She was also a part of the cast of TBS's The Bill Engvall Show, and she starred in the films The Poker House, Devil You Know and Garden Party.

Michelle Williams

5. Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Michelle Williams has been showing off her acting chops with her bold roles in under-the-radar independent films, but she has also starred in a few box office hits, including Shutter Island with Leonardo DiCaprio. Yet, once again, it is her work in an independent film that's capturing critics' attention—this time for her performance in Blue Valentine. In the romantic drama, Williams and co-star Ryan Gosling play a couple who are making a last-ditch effort to save their marriage.

Williams began her acting career as the angst-ridden Jen Lindley in Dawson's Creek. After a six-season run with the teen drama, she made a successful leap to the big screen. She starred alongside fellow young stars Kirsten Dunst in Dick and Christina Ricci in Prozac Nation, and she also appeared in several indie hits, including The United States of Leland, Me Without You and Imaginary Heroes. In 2005, Williams hit a career high when she appeared in Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, for which she won a Critics' Choice Award and was nominated for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.


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