Great Performances

The weeks between the Golden Globes and Oscar night are filled with awards. But statues or no, these actors are winners

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Sandino, 23, had to trust her instincts too. All she has in common with Maria is a Colombian passport. The actress is the daughter of a pathologist and a veterinarian and was raised in middle-class privilege in Bogot??. Her only previous acting experience was in amateur productions, and Marston, who had interviewed hundreds of young women in the U.S. and Colombia for the role, chose her as a last hope after seeing her audition tape.

While she did the heroin-pellet scene blind, she threw herself into the research otherwise. She even took a job cutting roses in a flower factory, as Maria does in the movie. "After two weeks, I understood her frustration"--which was not just with the job or with her family's lack of appreciation for her sacrifice or with her loser boyfriend. "You don't have anybody to lean on," says Sandino. "I understood why she wanted to leave"--however dangerous the circumstances.

Sandino has been careful in capitalizing on her success. She now lives quietly in Manhattan, where she is studying the dozens of scripts that have flowed her way since Maria opened last summer. But too many of the offers are for maids and "spicy" Latinas. "I'm not spicy at all," she says. "I'm about jeans and T shirts, and I don't use high heels." She would like to work for Pedro Almod??var or Alejandro Amen??bar or, failing a Spanish connection, in an action movie like House of Flying Daggers. Whatever she chooses, you can be certain that Sandino will do it with the clarity and force that made her Maria the year's most insinuating and touching performance. --R.S. With reporting by Carolina A. Miranda

Sharon Warren | Ray

The players in Ray could honorably fill all 10 slots in the Motion Picture Academy's supporting-actor and -actress categories this year. No joke. But even in this bold, acute ensemble, Sharon Warren stands out. As Aretha, the young single mother of Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx), Warren reveals the pain, strength and ornery resolve we later see in her son. She is the remembered radiance that lights, from within, a blind man's life.

Warren's parents--her father a policeman, her mother in administration at the Tuskegee Institute--steeped her in literature and theater. But when she left Auburn University to pursue acting, she soon had a right to sing the blues: for a couple of months she had to live in her car. "That's just life," she says. "At least I had a car to sleep in. And if I hadn't struggled, there is no way in hell I could have given the performance I did as Aretha."

So far, her exemplary work hasn't translated into job offers. News reports of a development deal at CBS turned out to be false. Again, that's life for Warren, 27, who expects much less of show business than she demands of herself. "I don't really want people to pay attention to me," she says, "just to get what I'm trying to deliver." Deliver she does, beautifully, in Ray. Now it's Hollywood's turn to get it. --R.C. Reported by D.P./Los Angeles

Clive Owen | Closer

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