Likely Winner: Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
She's bucking Oscar tradition: only Sophia Loren (Two Women, 1961) has won Best Actress for a performance in a foreign language. But Cotillard could still take it. Squeezing herself into the petite frame of Edith Piaf, Cotillard gives a big, bold performance that highlights all the striving, pathos and tragedy of the Little Sparrow's life.
Corliss Pick: Julie Christie, Away from Her
Lots of reasons she won't win. As a woman with Alzheimer's, she's in a high-minded disease-of-the-week movie. Even though she's going mad, she doesn't have a mad scene. And the film is really about her husband (Gordon Pinsent). But Christie lends this difficult part a toughness, poignancy and her own undimmed glamour.
Robbed: Keira Knightley, Atonement
We know the argument against her: the dress does all the acting. But the sweet willfulness Knightley shows as the upper-crust Circe, and then her little-girl hurt at being betrayed, make this a performance worth rewarding. Plus, she knows how to use her gorgeousness; isn't that an important part of movie acting?
Other nominees include Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) and Laura Linney (The Savages).