Photo: The Weinstein Company
1. Penelope Cruz, Nine
While she's certainly known for being one of the most beautiful women in the world, Penelope Cruz has carved a niche for herself as one of the most enchanting actresses on the silver screen. The three-time Golden Globe® nominee was the first Spanish actress to win an Oscar. In 2006, Cruz received a Best Actress nod for her work in Pedro Almodóvar's Volver, and in 2009, she took home the Best Supporting Actress statuette for her turn as María Elena in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Cruz plays Carla, another slightly unstable woman, in Nine, a movie-musical produced by Rob Marshall. In the film, Carla is film director Guido Contini's mistress—one of the nine important women in his life.
2. Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
This American actress grew up in New Jersey, but she says she didn't learn to speak English until she was 6 years old. Born to Ukrainian immigrant parents, Farmiga lived in a Ukrainian community until she left to attend Syracuse University, where she began to study performing arts.
After many theater and television roles, Farmiga broke into the film industry and is best known for her work in Running Scared, The Departed and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. This year, Farmiga received her first Oscar nomination for her work in the dark comedy Up in the Air. In the film, she plays Alex Goran, George Clooney's character's successful, confidant love interest.
3. Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Before being cast in director Jason Reitman's dark comedy, Up in the Air, Anna Kendrick was best known to millions of vampire enthusiasts as Jessica Stanley, one of the mortal stars in the Twilight series. Now, she's stepping out as a young actress who can go toe-to-toe with George Clooney.
Kendrick earns her first nomination for her portrayal of Natalie Keener, an ambitious, outspoken young woman who challenges Ryan Bingham—George Clooney's character—and tells him exactly what she thinks.
4. Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds
This German actress, fashion model and former ballerina shot to stardom after landing roles in blockbuster films like Troy and National Treasure. But critics didn't start to take notice until director Quentin Tarantino cast her as one of the leading ladies in his gory war movie, Inglourious Basterds.
Kruger plays a fictional German film star named Bridget von Hammersmark in the film, which co-stars Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz. What her Nazi fans don't know, however, is that Bridget is secretly working with a group of Jewish American soldiers who are plotting to destroy leaders of the Third Reich.
5. Mo'Nique, Precious
Reality show host and funny lady Mo'Nique is truly one of the queens of comedy—and also an amazing dramatic actress. In 2009, Mo'Nique blew audiences away in the film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.
Mo'Nique plays Mary, the horribly abusive mother of the film's title character, Precious. Since the film premiered, Mo'Nique has taken home a Golden Globe® and a Screen Actor's Guild Award® for this gritty supporting performance.
6. Julianne Moore, A Single Man
This is the fifth Oscar nomination for Julianne Moore, an American actress who got her start as a soap opera star in the early '80s. Previously, Moore has been recognized by the Academy for her work in Boogie Nights, The End of the Affair, The Hours and Far from Heaven.
Based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man tells the story of George (played by Colin Firth), a gay man living a closeted life in the 1960s. Moore lights up the screen as Charley, a former party girl who is George's best friend.
7. Samantha Morton, The Messenger
Samantha Morton is no stranger to the red carpet. This British actress has been nominated twice before—once for her role in Woody Allen's Sweet and Low Down and again for her work in Jim Sheridan's In America. Morton also starred alongside Tom Cruise in the action-thriller Minority Report.
In The Messenger, Morton plays Olivia Pitterson, a woman whose husband is killed during the war in Iraq. When military officials show up at her doorstep to notify her of her husband's death, one of the officers—played by Ben Foster—develops feelings for Olivia.