Likely Winner: Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Being something you're not: that's acting. So the tall, lovely, expansive Australian woman gets points for playing the short, gnomish, obscurantist American male Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' mega-weird bio-pic, and just edges out Amy Ryan, equally excellent as the underclass bitch-mother of Gone Baby Gone. It's also a consolation prize for Blanchett not winning Best Actress this year.
Corliss Pick: Saiorse Ronan, Atonement
Argument against giving an Oscar to kids: they have their whole lives to get one later. But Ronan, still just 13, has the rare gift of understanding Briony, the girl on the cusp of puberty whose naivete and jealousy lead her to a bad deed with repercussions that last a lifetime and beyond.
Robbed: Michelle Pfeiffer, Hairspray
Come on, Academy, lighten up. Once in a while, acknowledge the craft and craftiness that go into a superior comic turn, like Pfeiffer's manipulating mama in Hairspray. Every coyly malicious gesture adds another perfect note to the symphony of suburban cunning that is Velma von Tussle. Pfeiffer was also pretty cool ice cool as the witch in Stardust.
Other nominees include Ruby Dee ( American Gangster), Saoirse Ronan ( Atonement), Amy Ryan ( Gone Baby Gone) and Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton).