Pic: “Inland Empire”
Why: David Lynch has been campaigning for his star by sitting on Sunset Blvd. with a cow. If “Mulholland Drive” was the story of how far an ingenue would go to get work, this is Lynch’s paean to frequent collaborator Dern, who plays an experienced actress literally losing herself in her work. The movie itself is a taxing three-hour, nonnarrative affair, but Dern is the best thing about it.
Why: Jennifer Hudson’s irrepressible Effie White may bring down the house, but it’s Knowles who has the trickier, less showy role as Deena Jones, the ’60s singer privileged and imprisoned by her great beauty. In retooling the Broadway musical for the screen, Bill Condon handed Knowles the film’s emotional climax with “Listen,” a surging ballad that she pulls off with diva-worthy aplomb.
Pic: “The Notorious Bettie Page”
Why: An extremely brave performance, Mol’s re-creation of the ’50s icon proved that Mol belongs in the big leagues. In various stages of undress, the thesp learns not to be too self-conscious about her body and allows director Mary Harron to look at what was inside Page’s psyche, explaining how she became the era’s pin-up queen.
Pic: “Driving Lessons”
Why: Long established as a British TV vet, Walters doesn’t make as many bigscreen appearances — but when she does it’s always worthwhile. Nominated twice (“Educating Rita,” “Billy Elliott”) proves she’s an Academy fave, and her role as an aging recluse who rekindles her life by letting young Rupert Grint help her with the daily chores should resonate with older voters.
Why: While it would seem Whittaker would have a much stronger chance in the supporting category, her onscreen friendship with Peter O’Toole deserves accolades. Being that she’s a novice as an actress — “Venus” marks her first film — and that voters might be reluctant to tap a rookie without earning her dues yet, her bigscreen future would seem very bright at this point.
Pic: “Miss Potter”
Why: “Potter” is simply delightful, and much of the credit goes to Zellweger, who turns the “Peter Rabbit” author into a full-fleshed, avant-garde Englishwoman. The pic might be a bit too lightweight for serious consideration, but huzzahs to the thesp and filmmakers for their charming holiday treat.