She stops people short. And she surely shuts them up. This year, McDormand brought two films to a vibrant standstill while she shot off dialogue like a briskly efficient tommy gun. As Michael Douglas’ mistress in Wonder Boys, she’s all edgy ambivalence. From a brief, splurting despair at his lack of commitment (a scene that ends with her pointing a gun at Douglas jokingly — or is it?) to a take-you-or-leave-you assessment of her lover, she keeps him — and us — agog. As Almost Famous‘ overprotective mom, she shuts down the party with a phone call. Holding Billy Crudup’s callous frontman hostage on the other end, she lectures, threatens, and hectors him into taking care of her boy. The character could have been a caricature, but McDormand keeps it on track through sheer force of will. It’s fitting that both roles hail from academia: the first a college chancellor, the latter a prof. They’re rip-fire pedants, spiked with her special brand of snap-to-itiveness. She certainly got our attention.