Five leading ladies are competing for the Oscar for best actress in a leading role. All have offered weighty performances but some are a cut above.
Michelle Williams shines as Marilyn Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn." /Courtesy of The Harvey Weinstein Company
In "My Week with Marilyn," Michelle Williams captivates as Marilyn Monroe.
The film chronicles one week in the Hollywood icon's life while she filmed the musical "The Prince and the Showgirl" with Laurence Olivier in England.
The story is told from the perspective of assistant producer Colin Clark, who falls in love with the charismatic but mentally-fragile Monroe. Williams exudes energy and sexuality while capturing Monroe's vulnerability.
But that might not be enough.
Rooney Mara Rooney as Lisbeth Salander, a punk computer hacker in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." /Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
In "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," Rooney Mara delivers a compelling performance as Lisbeth Salander, a punk computer hacker who helps journalist Mikael Blomkvist search for a woman who's been missing in Sweden for 40 years.
Salander has suffered abuse from men.
Mara turns her into a dysfunctional but brilliant investigator who spares no one.
Fury drives and empowers her.
Mara earned the nomination, but Lisbeth Salander is an unsavory character and could cost Mara the award.
Glenn Close (right) portrays a woman masquerading as a man in "Albert Nobbs." /AP
Glenn Close, nominated for her performance as Albert Nobbs, could face similar challenges in the Oscar race.
Nobbs, a woman disguised as a man seeking a better life in male-dominated 19th century Ireland, is awkward and pathetic.
Many say Glenn Close offers the performance of a lifetime. But she is up against formidable opponents.
Meryl Streep, for one. She offers an intimate portrait of the aging Margaret Thatcher.
Meryl Streep as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." /Courtesy of The Harvey Weinstein Company
Streep gives us a frail old woman trying to keep her dignity while battling dementia and, in flashbacks, the harsh and unyielding leader of a nation.
Streep masters Thatcher's mannerisms and intonations for the role and the resemblance is uncanny. Her character carries the film.
Streep has won two Oscars -- the last one 30 years ago -- and has been nominated another 17 times.
Many feel she is long overdue for a third.
But her Oscar-worthy performance as "The Iron Lady" may not prevail because of our antipathy toward the real character she portrays.
Her strongest competition could come from Viola Davis, who plays Aibileen Clark in "The Help."
Viola Davis (left) plays Aibileen Clark in "The Help." /Courtesy of Dreamworks
She's an African-American maid who risks her life to help publish her story and that of other black maids working for white families in 1960s Mississippi.
Davis delivers a gut-wrenching performance as the all-suffering black woman who raises white children while her own grow up alone.
If she nabs the award on Oscar night, she won't be standing alone. She would validate all of the African-American maids who toiled for whites.
And that might be difficult for the motion picture academy to overlook.