Michael Fassbender: GQ's Man of the Year would have made a splash just walking around his apartment in the nude in "Shame," Steve McQueen's revealing cautionary tale of a sexaholic. But the European studmuffin, 34, couldn't sit still: He went over to the bad side as Magneto in "X-Men: First Class"; spanked Sabina Spielrein, played by Keira Knightley, as a repressed Carl Jung in "A Dangerous Method"; and brooded his way across the moor as Rochester in "Jane Eyre." It's enough to make other aspiring actors whine, "Leave some parts for us!"
Jessica Chastain: Call the porcelain-skinned redhead, 30, the female Fassbender. If you had asked about her a year ago, the answer would have been a big "who"? Then came a flood of well-received movies, from the mainstream "The Help," to the arty "The Tree of Life," as well as "The Debt," "Coriolanus," "Take Shelter," and "Texas Killing Fields." Equally adept at playing a saintly suburban mother and a slatternly Southern bombshell, she may be the Streep of her generation. Her biggest problem? With so many roles, how do you pick just one to nominate?
Jean Dujardin: Already a major name in France for his fluffy spy comedies, Dujardin, 39, earned a César nomination (the French Oscar equivalent) for the title role in "OSS 177: Cairo, Nest of Spies" with director Michel Hazanavicius. He won best actor at the Cannes Film Festival for their latest collaboration, "The Artist," in which Dujardin plays an early Hollywood silent-film star who speaks a single word of English but expresses the entire language of charm in this wistfully humane black-and-white glance back at the world before talking pictures.
Elizabeth Olsen: Last January at the Sundance Film Festival, the consensus after the premiere of "Martha Marcy May Marlene" (oh, shoot the writer who decided on that title!) was that here, finally, was the Olsen sister who could really act. In her feature-film debut, the 22-year-old younger half-sibling of Mary-Kate and Ashley peeled off her clothes and got underneath the audience's skin as a cult member who flees the commune and returns home to her sister but can't quite wrap her head around her individual identity.
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Octavia Spencer: The "Ugly Betty" star, 41, has arguably the most dramatic storyline in "The Help." Her Minny is a sympathetic but prickly black maid who struggles to remain her own person despite the social costs. While Minny's mouth gets her at trouble at work in a white woman's kitchen and at home with her unseen and violent husband, she gets her revenge. According to Spencer, she met novelist Kathryn Stockett through their mutual friend, writer-director Tate Taylor, and the character of Minny was actually molded to the actress well before the book became a chick-lit must-read.
Shailene Woodley: Sure, the actress received some Teen Choice nominations for her role as Amy Juergens in "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," but that was hardly preparation for her award-winning, older-and-wiser-than-her-years daughter to George Clooney's Matt King in "The Descendants." She may hang out with Miley Cyrus off-screen, but she can hold her own with Oscar-winner Clooney, never overplaying her emotional hand, even when she's the one to deliver the so-sad, too-bad news: Mom was cheating, and Dad was too self-involved to notice.
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For TV fans, Melissa McCarthy of "Mike and Molly" and comic Patton Oswalt from "United State of Tara" and "Bored to Death" are old news. But both broke out big in subversive big-screen comedies. McCarthy's Megan was the surprise hit of "Bridesmaids," overtly sexual in a power-forward, plus-size way. While in "Young Adult," Oswalt also gets a sex scene, removing his wash-worn undershirt to reveal a beer-barrel gut instead of a six-pack. His Matt is the Jiminy Cricket conscience of the black comedy, a geek on a crutch with more self-respect than Charlize Theron's beautiful but blitzed ex-cheerleader. Both Oswalt and McCarthy are viable contenders for best supporting actor and actress at the Globes, with Oscar potential beyond.
While the Golden Globes are often dismissed as a fun, drunken awards party caught on camera -- a feeling that English comedian Ricky Gervais as snarky ringmaster has only intensified -- the Globes do roll out a lot of names that end up arriving on the Academy Awards ballots. Expect the majority of the fresh faces above to have become very familiar on the red carpet at Hollywood's Kodak Theater by the time February 26 and the 84th Annual Academy Awards winners' names are snug in their sealed envelopes.
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