Oscars 2011 Profiles: Best Actress Nominees

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Sometimes in recent years Best Actress has felt like a category containing one certain winner and four ladies making up numbers - but not this time. This year, the five nominees run the gamut in terms of age, stardom levels and performances. From the previously unknown Jennifer Lawrence to the experienced Annette Benning; from Nicole Kidman's grief-stricken mother to Natalie Portman's disturbed ballerina or Michelle Williams' loser-in-love, there isn't a bum note in the lot. Here, we size up the chances of each of the five nominees...

Why She Will Win
In most Oscar categories, long service is a significant factor in your favour: the smart money was on Jeff Bridges last year at least in part because he'd been around for ever. In the same way, Bening's been a star for decades and it may be her time.This is her fourth nomination. Her fourth!

Her portrayal of mother and partner Nic is really, really good, garnering an indie film far more attention than it might otherwise have done.

Why She Won't Win
In Best Actress - almost uniquely - your chances of winning an Oscar over the age of 40 don't increase.While she won at the Globes, it was only in the Comedy/Musical half - and the competition there was frankly poor.

She and husband Warren Beatty stand a little apart from the general Hollywood crowd, so she may not be in with the voters.

Why She Will Win
It's an astonishingly good performance, maybe her best since To Die For, and one that reminds us why she won an Oscar in the first place for The Hours. And this time she didn't even need a fake nose!She's a bona fide A-lister, which is a definite advantage in the Best Actress category.

She didn't embarrass herself in her speech last time, so they know she can be trusted on the podium.

Why She Won't Win
Nobody has been to see the film, almost no-one. Hopefully this nomination will give it a boost.The subject matter - grieving parents - is heavy enough that people may not have realised that the film's funny; but equally the humour might put voters off.

Kidman has already won once, and unless you're Hilary Swank the Actress categories tend not to do repeats in recent years.

Why She Will Win
When this film came out, it seemed like every review tipped Jennifer Lawrence for the prize - and that's because it's a magnetic, film-carrying performance.Lawrence is already moving on to bigger films in the likes of X-Men: First Class - so if this prize is, as it often seems, a way of crowning a new A-lister, she may qualify.

In the same way that Oscar voters admire those who play people with a disability or who ugly up for a role, they may admire people who play poor. So unimaginable otherwise!

Why She Won't Win
She's very young and in her first film lead - and in this high-powered company, that's no advantage.With the film released several months before Oscar season started, she may have peaked too soon.

Following this effort with a superhero movie and a role in The Beaver may not help her cause.

Why She Will Win
She's the easy frontrunner, with a bunch of wins at various critics associations, including the Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild award under her belt.The film's an astonishing showcase for her talents; a chance for her to play (at least) two roles at once and slowly lose her mind. Surely mental trauma is just as valuable as physical trauma as an Oscar magnet?

Portman's been nominated before, she's an A-lister and she'll look gorgeous on the night: the cynic would argue that all these things increase her chances of success.

Why She Won't Win
The film may be a bit scary and disturbing for the older voters, and doesn't offer the traditional Oscar narrative of triumph over adversity or tragic self-sacrifice. The film was also criticised for melodrama and being pitched at too high a fever pitch of emotion - and Portman could suffer for that.Portman is only on her second nomination, and it may be Bening's year.

She's so tiny, and got tinier for the role, that the voters could worry that she won't be able to heft the statue.

Why She Will Win
It's an extraordinarily realistic performance from an actress who, over the last few years, doesn't seem able to set a foot wrong.She's been nominated before - for Brokeback Mountain - so she has form. She's also made it clear how seriously she views the acting profession, as opposed to stardom, which may impress voters.

The semi-improvised nature of the material makes her performance even more impressive.

Why She Won't Win
She didn't get a nomination at the Screen Actors Guild awards, which is usually a good indicator of Oscar performance.The fact that her on-screen partner Ryan Gosling wasn't nominated may suggest that the voters haven't given the film much thought - this is its only nomination.

If this award goes to one of the younger actresses, Portman would seem to have it sewn up.