Mary Elizabeth Winstead, "Smashed": Nothing against Denzel Washington in "Flight," who also does a terrific job of playing an alcoholic staring into the abyss. But if you want to compare third-act recovery-meeting speeches, Winstead's is better, truer and more touching than Washington's. -- STEVE POND
Bruce Willis, "Moonrise Kingdom": It might be time for actors-branch voters to think back to the spring: As a local sheriff in search of a missing boy and girl, a scorned lover of the girl's mother and a father figure to the boy, Willis is the heart of Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom." He's understated, moving, often funny and miles from his typical John McClane persona. -- LUCAS SHAW
"Cloud Atlas": With its gender-neutral casting and fast-paced bouncing between storylines, the Wachowskis' and Tom Tykwer's epic isn't just a technical marvel -- it's also one of the most engrossing films of the season. And for all its ambitious scope, its core message is simple and touching: Everyone's life has meaning, and everyone deserves love. -- ALEXANDER C. KAUFMAN
"Damsels in Distress": Whit Stillman deserves a screenwriting nomination for his first film in 13 years just to encourage him to make more. But if nothing else, his delightful "Damsels" needs a nomination for choreography, even if the Oscars don't have a category for that. "The Sambola," the soon-to-be international dance craze created just for the film, is almost as lovely as the repartee. -- TIM MOLLOY
David Ayers, "End of Watch": The year's best crime drama is a hyper-realistic ode to the LAPD punctuated by strong performances from Jake Gyllenhaal (right) and Michael Peña. "Training Day" made writer-director Ayers' career, but this film isn't far off. -- LUCAS SHAW
Elle Fanning, "Ginger & Rosa": Playing the first half of the titular teen duo, Fanning (right with Alice Englert) goes effortlessly from girl-crush giddiness to catatonia to hysterics as she deals with her libertine dad's infatuation with her best friend. Major-league adolescent angst. -- CHRIS WILLMAN
Martin McDonagh, "Seven Psychopaths": This is a bloody, self-reflective, talky, subversive action flick that does justice to its title -- and to its cast of all-star weirdos: Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Colin Farrell... It's goofier and messier than writer-director McDonagh's "In Bruges," but freakin' wonderful anyway. -- STEVE POND
Mark Ruffalo, "The Avengers": Unlike Edward Norton or Eric Bana, who portrayed the Hulk as a brooding killjoy, Mark Ruffalo found the humor in the character and made him his own. His Bruce Banner is a sardonic marvel whose most superheroic feat is nearly stealing the movie from Robert Downey Jr. -- BRENT LANG
"The Raid: Redemption": This leaves most martial-arts films in the dust with its nonstop barrage of gunfire, hand-to-hand combat and rapid cuts. Set entirely in one apartment building during a small battalion's raid on a crime kingpin's headquarters, Gareth Evans' Indonesian gem is exhilarating, beautifully shot and unforgettable. -- LUCAS SHAW
"Compliance": Writer-director Craig Zobel's drama is closely based on the true story of a crank caller who impersonated a cop to persuade fast-food workers to dole out humiliations on one of their own. He focused on fast-food workers because they -- like so many of us -- had been systematically discouraged from thinking for themselves. -- TIM MOLLOY
Zoe Kazan, "Ruby Sparks": Best actress isn't in the cards for Kazan's sparkling performance as an imaginary girl come to life in this overlooked gem -- but what about some screenwriting love for the way in which first-time writer Kazan artfully balanced jokes and hard truths as she crafted the ultimate celebration and the ultimate takedown of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype? -- STEVE POND
Jack Black, "Bernie": Who knew the "School of Rock" star could be such a subtle character actor? As a sunny, gay funeral director turned unlikely murderer, Black portrays a man whose outward good cheer masks a crippling sense of guilt. In a word: masterful. -- BRENT LANG
With everyone clamoring to predict who will win what during the coming awards season, TheWrap staff has highlighted a dozen deserving films or stars that might be missing from your radar.
Ranging from Bruce Willis' understated, yet moving turn as a subdued sheriff in "Moonrise Kingdom" to the beautifully shot and choreographed violence of "The Raid: Redemption," here are our modest suggestions that hopefully won't get lost in the shuffle.