Portman dancing with paranoia

'Swan' thesp winning previous kudo contests

“The Kids Are All Right”

Why she’ll win: After a handful of at bats, it could be this Bening’s time. Her portrait of a judgmental, acid-tongued yet unquestionably loving lesbian mom/spouse was etched with an attention to character detail that gave her full flight to be funny, sharp-edged and heartbreaking.
Maybe not: The reactive nature of Bening’s role, and the ensemble quality of the movie’s emotional purview could make it easy to award a more unmistakably centralized performance of another nominee.
Critic’s quote: “As the serious one with a domineering streak, Bening has the harder task unearthing her character’s humanity without any of the cuddle factor that everyone else has been given. But as she did in ‘American Beauty,’ she makes the unlikable understandable, forgivable.” — Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

“Rabbit Hole”

Why she’ll win: The part of a wife and mother grieving for a dead child may sound like a slam dunk heart-tugger for any halfway competent actor, but Kidman — a previous winner here (“The Hours”) — avoids easy pity with her delicately chilled, obliquely sympathetic and even witty turn. She’s also pulled in SAG and Spirit nominations, too.
Maybe not: Kidman’s subtleties and a tough subject matter could make her easy to overlook in a year of praise for Portman’s theatricality.
Critic’s quote: “Nicole Kidman places the bereaved heroine of ‘Rabbit Hole’ in a nether land between life and not-quite-life. Her beautiful performance transcends the specifics of the script.” — Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal

“Winter’s Bone”

Why she’ll win: The earthy intelligence and poise in Lawrence’s portrayal of a backwoods teenager in dire straits has made her the young find of 2010, winning “promising” and “breakout” awards from all over. Her star appeal is in her maturity as much as her screen command.
Maybe not: The Academy might consider it too early to anoint her with acting’s biggest honor, figuring she’ll have many more trips to the nominees’ circle in years to come.
Critic’s quote: “Lawrence is the movie’s blooming discovery, a mesmerizing actor with a gaze that’s the opposite of actress-coy and a voice modulated in the low, almost monotone cadences of local ways.” — Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

“Black Swan”

Why she’ll win: This is Portman’s biggest moment as an actress, with a Globe and SAG win, and Spirit and BAFTA noms in tow for her full-throttle portrait of a gifted ballet dancer’s descent into madness. She turned heads and changed perceptions with this physically and psychologically demanding role.
Maybe not: If more priggish Academy senses prevail, such an overtly sexual and violent character study might turn voters off.
Critic’s quote: “Centerstage stands Natalie Portman, whose courageous turn lays bare the myriad insecurities genuinely dedicated performers face when testing their limits, revealing shades of the actress never before seen on film.” — Peter Debruge, Variety

“Blue Valentine”

Why she’ll win: Williams’ dedication to unvarnished turns in small movies has given her an indie queen stature that’s becoming harder to ignore. Her Spirit-and-Globe-nominated double-duty role in “Blue Valentine,” evincing the bloom of love and its strained demise, has the ruined beauty of a cracked vase.
Maybe not: The lack of recognition for her co-star Ryan Gosling — or anybody else in the creative team — will make momentum hard to generate for so intimate and grim a character piece.
Critic’s quote: “Always an actress with see-through defenses, she is here, under the handheld camera’s tight scrutiny, a study in fear, in the strain that comes with endless self-protection. Williams is holding it in — and holding it in — so when her Cindy can’t anymore, the effect is momentous.” — David Edelstein, New York magazine

Couples not always treated equally
The Nominees:
Lead Actor | Lead Actress | Supporting Actor | Supporting Actress

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