1. Ben Affleck, director, Argo
Directing his third feature — and his first outside his hometown of Boston — Affleck juggles a mammoth cast (including Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and Alan Arkin) and brings maximum tension to a true story of international political intrigue. Bonus points for deftly handling the film’s leading role as well.
2. Naomi Watts, actress; Ewan McGregor, supporting actor, The Impossible
Playing a vacationing couple whose family is torn apart by the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, Watts and McGregor don’t share many scenes. But they build a strong connection that permeates the screen even when they’re separated by the aftermath of a shocking natural disaster.
3. Stephen Chbosky, screenwriter, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Adapting his own hit young-adult book, the novelist-turned-filmmaker has made a bittersweet high school drama (featuring Emma Watson and Paul Rudd) that insightfully explores issues of community and sexuality. It could very well end up becoming this generation’s The Breakfast Club.
4. John Hawkes, actor; Helen Hunt, supporting actress, The Sessions
As a 38-year-old polio survivor and the professional sex surrogate who provides his sensual awakening, Hawkes (an Oscar nominee for 2010’s Winter’s Bone) and Hunt (who won Best Actress for 1997’s As Good as It Gets) turn in career-best performances that are affecting and gutsy.