Best Actress

Strong Contenders

Anna Karenina Keira Knightley
Keira Knightley - "Anna Karenina"
While we we're still not quiet certain of the Oscar chances for the experimental "Anna Karenina" (which is not to slight the film), the title role is a doozy no matter how much Joe Wright plays with form, and he's already gotten Keira Knightley one Oscar nomination for "Pride & Prejudice." The actress hasn't got the nod since, but she gets stronger and stronger each time around, and the film's her best showcase in years. In what's looking like a thin year in this category at this point, she might even be the front-runner, unless critics wildly take against the film.  

Viola Davis - "Won't Back Down"
Widely expected to win this past weekend for "The Help," Viola Davis lost out to Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady" in the end. But fortunately, she has another film in the pipeline, albeit one not on many radars yet: Walden Media's inspirational drama "Won't Back Down." Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal play parents who help take over the kids' failing schools. It seems like the kind of "Blind Side"-ish tale that could connect with voters, and Davis losing out this year may help her out next time around. On the down side, it's written and directed by "Beastly" helmer Daniel Barnz, but then, Tate Taylor didn't exactly hurt "The Help" much.

Hyde Park On Hudson Bill Murray Laura Linney
Laura Linney - "Hyde Park On Hudson"
While all the headlines on "Hyde Park On Hudson" lead with Bill Murray playing FDR, Roger Michell's film isn't exactly lacking in acting talent elsewhere. The film centers on Roosevelt's rumored extramarital relationship with his distant cousin, Margaret Stuckley, and it's three-time nominee Laura Linney who has that role, opposite Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt. Linney's never won, and the film seems to display the kind of tragic, thwarted love that always plays well, but it's conceivable that she could end up going supporting, although our money's on lead for now.

Helen Hunt - "The Surrogate"
Helen Hunt is arguably the Best Actress winner of the last few decades who's had the most disappointing post-Oscar career (on second thoughts, Halle Berry might beat her to that one...) Choices like "Pay It Forward" failed to keep her on the A-list, and she's been barely seen on the big screen in the last few years. But Sundance reviews of "The Surrogate" suggested that Hunt, who plays the forward-thinking sex therapist of the title, might well be heading back to the Oscar stage this year. As with co-star John Hawkes, the frank, explicit material could hurt her more than help her, but that's arguably less of a deal-breaker for an actress than for an actor (see: Berry in "Monster's Ball")...