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Oscars 2012: Meet the Best Actress Nominees

USMagazine, Saturday, February 25, 2012, 11:27am (PST)

Viola? Rooney? Meryl? With such a talented pool of leading ladies, it's tough to predict who will take home the industry's top honor at the 84th Annual Academy Awards (airing this Sunday at 7 PM on ABC.) Us Weekly breaks it down for you--just in time to dominate your office Oscars pool!

PHOTOS: Check out the 2012 Oscar nominees!

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

This year, Close, 64, received a nod for her role as a lonely, cross-dressing waiter living in nineteenth-century Ireland. Though the Damages star has won three Tonys, three Emmys, two Golden Globes, and received six Oscar nominations, she has yet to take home a golden statue. But Close assures Us she's going into her big night as relaxed as possible. "It feels great," Close says. "We birthed [the film], now it's out in the world. We have no control over it anymore." Close is especially proud of her incredible transformation. "Everyday was about 2 hours of getting ready," she shares. "Every time I looked at the mirror after getting made up, I was completely shocked! I didn't recognize myself at all."

PHOTOS: Before they were Oscar nominees

Viola Davis, The Help

Davis, 46, stole the show as Aibileen Clark, who opens up to a young writer in her town about the harsh realities of life as an African American housemaid in the Deep South in 1962. Movie insiders agree the Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close star is this year's clear front-runner; Oscars analyst Tom O'Neil (of GoldDerby.com) puts her odds at 1 to 1, though he admits Skeeter (played by Emma Stone) is technically the film's lead. This is Davis' second Academy Award nomination, and her first nod for "Actress in a Leading Role." "It’s been extraordinary," Davis told Us earlier this month of the recognition she's gotten for Aibileen. "That's the only word I can think of...extraordinary!"

PHOTOS: Awkward Nominee pasts!

Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

As research assistant Lisbeth Salander, Mara (whose older sister is American Horror Story's Kate Mara) abandoned her safe, girl-next-door image by dying her hair jet black and piling on the piercings. Prior to playing Lisbeth, Mara, 26, had starred in a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and played Erica in The Social Network--otherwise known as the girl who dumps Mark Zuckerberg in the film's opening scene. Despite Salander's tough girl ways, Mara tells Us she didn't have any trouble connecting with the role. "Erica always felt more foreign to me than Lisbeth ever did," Mara admits. "She was always a character I really understood. The way she moves through the world, and sort of goes unnoticed...I think we're both similar [too] in that we both like to investigate every facet of something before we are ready to reveal ourselves to the world."

PHOTOS: Last year's breakout stars

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

This is Streep's seventeenth Oscar nomination over the span of her nearly four decades-long career (she won twice: in 1979, for Kramer vs. Kramer, and again in 1982 for Sophie's Choice). This time around, Streep, 62, has received acclaim for her portrayal of an aging Margaret Thatcher. While reviews of the flick itself were mixed, critics almost universally praised Streep's performance. "I was amazed by all the things that were set against her success," Streep told Us of learning to admire the controversial Prime Minister. "Even though you might not agree with her politics, she did a huge service to women around the world."

PHOTOS: Marilyn Monroe wannabes

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

"There was a responsibility in playing Marilyn Monroe that was new and terrifying,” Williams, 31, told reporters at a press conference for her film. "It was probably more challenging than anything else I have attempted." Though critics weren't enthusiastic about My Week with Marilyn's plot, Williams dazzled audiences everywhere as the legendary (and extremely troubled) film star. Although she received a Golden Globe for her efforts, insiders place her odds at 9 to 1 (behind Viola Davis and Meryl Streep.) "She's young," says Johnny Avello, the executive director of race and sports operations at the Wynn Las Vegas. "[But] she'll be a favorite to win best actress in a year or two."

Tell Us: Who should win this year’s Best Actress Oscar?

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