Annette Bening

Who Won: Hilary Swank ("Boys Don't Cry")
Who Should've Won: Annette Bening ("American Beauty")
Who Else Was Nominated: Janet McTeer ("Tumbleweeds"), Julianne Moore ("The End of the Affair"), Meryl Streep ("Music of the Heart")

Annette Bening lost twice to Hilary Swank, first in 2000 and again in 2005, for Best Actress--but where few remember Swank's performance in "Boys Don't Cry," Bening's performance as suburban housewife Carolyn Burnham is unforgettable. She plays it tough and brittle throughout, but her deep-seated desperation and insecurity emerge quietly in a few key scenes -- namely, in the empty living room of the house she can't sell, pulling herself together, a flickering votive in cinematographer Conrad Hall's visual cathedral.

Ellen Burstyn

Who Won: Julia Roberts ("Erin Brockovich")
Who Should've Won: Ellen Burstyn ("Requiem for a Dream")
Who Else Was Nominated: Joan Allen ("The Contender"), Juliette Binoche ("Chocolat"), Laura Linney ("You Can Count On Me")

Julia Roberts dishes up some plucky charm in Steven Soderbergh's whistleblower docudrama "Erin Brockovich" -- the film that got Hollywood to take the seasoned romcom movie star seriously. But no brassy courtroom verbiage compares to Ellen Burstyn's indomitable performance as starry-eyed spinster housewife Sarah Goldfarb. Yes, there's that famous "red dress" monologue where she spills her broken guts to her drug addict son (watch it after the jump), but let's not forget all the manic pill-popping, amphetamine-addled delusion that showcases her fearlessness as an actress -- while at the same time dragging us down to hell.

Amour, still

Who Won: Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook")
Who Should've Won: Emmanuelle Riva ("Amour")
Who Else Was Nominated: Jessica Chastain ("Zero Dark Thirty"), Quvenzhane Wallis ("Beasts of the Southern Wild"), Naomi Watts ("The Impossible")

We all fell head-over-heels for Jennifer Lawrence as a grungy, all-cards-on-the-table kind of gal in "Silver Linings Playbook" -- but did her win have more to do with Harvey Weinstein's hawking and the Oscar machine than anything else? It's hard to imagine that any female performance in 2012 could have been better than French actress Emmanuelle Riva's startling work in Michael Haneke's suffocating and tense "Amour" as a wife and mother who suffers a stroke and slowly, thereafter, debilitates. The performance lies mostly in silence and body language -- no large feat coming from the star of Alain Resnais' hushed (and doomed) 1959 romance "Hiroshima Mon Amour."

Clips, after the jump.