Film: Slumdog Millionaire
Release date: November 12
Role: Latika, an orphan from Mumbai's slums who gets a chance to reunite with her childhood soul mate (Dev Patel) when he lands on India's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
Why her: Despite Pinto's inexperience the Mumbai native had only some modeling and TV-anchoring credits on her résumé director Danny Boyle says he hadn't felt this intensely about an actor since casting then-unknown Kelly Macdonald in 1996's Trainspotting. On set, he was impressed with how she handled the film's romantic scenes. ''Kissing is a big deal in India,'' he says. ''It's a bit like nudity in the West.''
Film: Wendy and Lucy
Release date: December 10
Role: Wendy, a weary young woman traveling across the country for a job with only her dog, Lucy, and $523 to her name.
Why her: The Oscar nominee for Brokeback Mountain agreed to work for scale on the $175,000-budgeted production, with no makeup and with her hair unwashed for the 20-day shoot. The austere conditions seem only to have helped her connect with a woman whose already precarious life spirals further downward after her car breaks down in Portland, Ore. ''It's such a buttoned-up character,'' says director Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy), ''and yet there's always so much emotion charging behind her face.''
Film: The Spirit
Release date: December 25
Role: A cop, presumed dead, who stalks the streets as a masked vigilante.
How he prepped: Director Frank Miller (Sin City) gave the actor copies of the classic 1940s Will Eisner comics that inspired the film. ''I plastered them all over my trailer,'' says Macht (The Recruit). ''You couldn't see one bit of fake wood.''
Why him: Macht's good looks and rakish charm make the Spirit a credible ladies' man. ''Some people say he's a bit of a slut,'' says Macht. ''But I say his pheromones are kicking women just smell him from a mile away.''
Release date: December 12
Role: Mrs. Muller, an early-1960s working mother devastated to learn that her shy 12-year-old son may have been molested by a Catholic-school priest.
Why her: She's done TV (Law & Order: SVU) and movies (Nights in Rodanthe), but it was award-winning stage work that helped Davis land her Doubt role. And in a movie full of repression, she simmers and then explodes in a confrontation with Meryl Streep as the school principal. What did the actors discuss off camera? Doubt, of course about performing. ''That gnawing feeling is always in the back of your mind: 'You really suck!''' says Davis. ''That's just an actor's mentality.''