This year's Oscar acting categories will likely feature a few choruses of the same old song, even if the cast members of "Nine" aren't the ones singing it. And yet, even with award-season perennials such as Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman and recent winner Helen Mirren looming large, there figures to be plenty of room for an unusually large number of award-season newcomers. It's a freshman class young and old, famous and obscure, serious and a little silly. A look at possible newcomer nominees -- and whether we might see them at the award podium in the future.
-- Glenn Whipp Sandra Bullock "The Blind Side"
Previous sightings: You may have seen her in a little movie called "Speed." Or perhaps that obscure love story "While You Were Sleeping." Or maybe "Miss Congeniality." Or maybe. . . .
Freshness factor: Though she's been an A-lister for 15 years, "The Blind Side" marks Bullock's first foray into the award-season wilds. And because nearly everyone loves Sandy, the chance to nominate her -- even for yet another variation on her trademark spunk -- has people really excited!
Here to stay or gone tomorrow: Bullock will be the first to tell you she doesn't make movies that critics like. (Remember that magic mailbox in "The Lake House"?) This might be her one and only chance for Oscar gold, unless "The Proposal 2: Wedding Day!" contains unexpected shades of nuance.
Carey Mulligan "An Education"
Previous sightings: Played Keira Knightley's little sister in "Pride & Prejudice" and wowed Brits and Yanks in a revival of Chekov's "The Seagull."
Freshness factor: In the stratosphere. Her "An Education" ingénue has provoked a wave of rapturous response from (older) male critics that's almost a little scary in its intensity. Then again, for Mulligan, 24, this is nothing new. Reviewing "The Seagull," the Observer critic called her "almost unbearably affecting." Sounds painful.
Here to stay or gone tomorrow: Overheard at the recent Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. vote, in which Mulligan finished second: Don't worry. We'll have many more chances to honor the elfin minx. (OK, maybe the "elfin minx" part wasn't said -- at least, not out loud).
"A Serious Man"
Previous sightings: Starred in the Broadway black comedy "The Pillowman."
Freshness factor: The Juilliard-trained actor gets his big-screen break at the age of 41. If he's fortunate, he becomes part of the Coen brothers' ensemble.
Here to stay or gone tomorrow: The next time you see him picking up an award, it will likely be at the Tonys -- or the Emmys. Stuhlbarg plays World Series fixer Arnold Rothstein in HBO's upcoming 1920s Atlantic City saga, "Boardwalk Empire."
"Up in the Air"
Previous sightings: Bella's chatterbox friend in the "Twilight" movies.
Freshness factor: She's 24 but completely convincing playing a teenager in the "Twilight" movies. Not only a poster child for "pert," but could also get a part in the next "Chipmunks" movie if so inclined.
Here to stay or gone tomorrow: Landing "Up in the Air" -- and holding her own with George Clooney -- puts her on the map. Where she goes without the "Air" ponytail is a matter of choices and a little luck. But she clearly has the chops.
Previous sightings: Cate Blanchett's lady-in-waiting in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age." Fabulous opposite Heath Ledger in "Candy," a story of doomed lovers.
Freshness factor: Largely unknown before her lovely work as poet John Keats' inspiration in "Bright Star" and, unfortunately, still largely unknown despite the film's release.
Here to stay or gone tomorrow: Making her move to the mainstream with Zack Snyder's next movie, "Sucker Punch," which is described as " 'Alice in Wonderland' with machine guns." It's not Keats but probably pays better and will lead to wider recognition.
Jeremy Renner "The Hurt Locker"
Previous sightings: Nominated for an Indie Spirit Award several years ago for playing serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Costarred in the recent, well-reviewed and little-seen ABC cop dramedy "The Unusuals."
Freshness factor: Renner has been around for a while, but the force and intelligence of his "Hurt Locker" performance makes you believe that he has reinvented what it means to be an action hero.
Here to stay or gone tomorrow: Has the looks of an indie leading man for years to come.
Previous sightings: Performing on stage at Lehman College in the Bronx.
Freshness factor: One of the year's great out-of-nowhere stories, beginning at Sundance and continuing through to the Golden Globe and Indie Spirit nominations. We're not tired of her yet.
Here to stay or gone tomorrow: Impossible to tell based on one very specific performance. Before "Precious," Sidibe was pursuing a psychology degree, which would come in handy whether or not she stays in the business.
Previous sightings: Schauspielhaus Zürich or the Burgtheater. In other words, unless you're German and you go to the theater, you haven't seen him.
Freshness factor: Waltz looks a good 10 years younger than his age (53) and clearly has the ability to charm. We haven't seen this kind of boyish menace since Norman Bates opened his motel.
Here to stay or gone tomorrow: Post-"Basterds," Waltz immediately snagged the role of the main villain in Michel Gondry's "The Green Hornet." Supporting actor Oscar seems inevitable. And if all else fails, given that great "Basterds" opening scene, he could have a future as a milk pitchman.