Hugo versus The Artist! Meryl versus Viola! George versus Brad! The 84th Academy Awards are shaping up to be a night of epic showdowns, and this year’s nominations tightened the race in exciting fashion. In this week’s EW, we take you inside all exciting categories, explore the shocking snubs, and introduce you to all the nominees you may not know about (Demián who?).

Two of the happiest nominees this year? Good pals Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer, who were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress (for Bridesmaids and The Help, respectively). The pair costarred in a little-seen 2008 indie called Pretty Ugly People, directed by The Help‘s Tate Taylor. McCarthy, already an Emmy winner for her CBS sitcom Mike & Molly, woke up just as her category was being announced on Jan. 24 and had trouble putting all the pieces together. “I couldn’t process what it was,” she tells EW. “They said my name and I kept saying, ‘But what is this for?’ And my husband said, ‘The Academy Awards!’ And I said, ‘No, it’s a different show! It’s a different show!’ It was the weirdest thing. I couldn’t get the concept into my brain. I don’t know why.”

Spencer, meanwhile, has won every major pre-Oscar prize so far for her memorable turn in The Help but refuses to believe her status as the early favorite.

“I don’t know how anybody could say anybody is a front-runner,” says Spencer. “The only way you’re a front-runner is if you win. You know what I’m saying?”

For all the scoop you need to know leading up to this year’s Oscar ceremony, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands this Friday.

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