Oscar Nominees: The Inside Story
Nomination: Best Actress, Monster
Why Her?: "What Charlize Theron achieves in Patty Jenkins's Monster isn't a performance but an embodiment," wrote Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert.
Did You Know?: The former model, 28, gained 30 lbs. and wore heavy dentures and leathery latex makeup on her face to portray serial killer Aileen Wuornos.
Nomination: Best Actor, House of Sand and Fog
Why Him?: The British Kingsley seems to have an affinity for playing foreigners. He won Best Actor in 1982 for portraying Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, and is now nominated for his role as a proud Iranian immigrant fighting for ownership of a California house.
Did You Know?: Kingsley, 60, received the highest form of flattery from Queen Elizabeth: He was knighted New Year's Eve 2001.
Nomination: Best Supporting Actress, Thirteen
Why Her?: PEOPLE's Rozen hailed Hunter's "fierce portrayal" of a recovering alcoholic who watches her teenage daughter spiral into drug use and promiscuity.
Did You Know?: During the movie's 24-day shoot, Hunter, 45, bonded with her teenage costars during an on-set sleepover.
Nomination: Best Supporting Actor, The Cooler
Why Him?: "This is one of Alec Baldwin's best performances," wrote Roger Ebert of Baldwin's portrayal of a shady casino boss.
Did You Know?: Baldwin, 45, will play late designer Roy Halston Frowick in the upcoming Simply Halston.
Nomination: Best Director, Mystic River
Why Him?: "Clint Eastwood has directed his finest film," wrote PEOPLE's Rozen.
Did You Know?: The Oscar-winning director and actor, 73, met his wife, reporter Dina Ruiz, in 1993 when she interviewed him for a story.
Benicio Del Toro
Nomination: Best Supporting Actor, 21 Grams
Why Him?: Of his role, Del Toro is "possibly best of all as a man desperately trying to hold his demons at bay," wrote PEOPLE's Rozen.
Did You Know?: The Oscar winner (for 2000's Traffic), 37, is a fan of comedian Bernie Mac.
Nomination: Best Actress, Whale Rider
Why Her?: "She's lovely, carries herself with authority and conveys deep feeling with a mere look or a slump of her shoulders," wrote PEOPLE movie critic Leah Rozen.
Did You Know?: The New Zealand native, 13, had never acted until a casting agent discovered her a couple of years ago. She is now the youngest Best Actress nominee in history for her portrayal of a Maori girl struggling to prove herself as a leader to her grandfather.
Nomination: Best Supporting Actress, Pieces of April
Why Her?: Clarkson added "poignancy" to the film, PEOPLE's Rozen wrote, with her performance as a mother dying of cancer who goes to visit her long-estranged daughter at Thanksgiving.
Did You Know?: Clarkson, 44, won a 2002 Emmy for her role as Ruth's sister on Six Feet Under.
Nomination: Best Actor, Mystic River
Why Him?: Director Clint Eastwood calls Penn, 43, "the finest actor of his generation."
Did You Know?: Penn and his wife, actress Robin Wright Penn, live in the San Francisco Bay Area to avoid raising their two children in Hollywood.
Nomination: Best Actor, Lost in Translation
Why Him?: Murray gave a "magnificent performance," wrote PEOPLE's Rozen, playing an actor on a career downswing who befriends a young American woman in Tokyo – a departure from his signature slapstick comedic roles.
Did You Know?: Writer-director Sofia Coppola wanted Murray, 53, for the lead role so badly that she wooed him for eight months with constant phone calls.