12. Hilary Swank, 'Million Dollar Baby'
"I don't know what I did in this life to deserve all this," Hilary Swank said when accepting her Oscar for Million Dollar Baby. "I'm just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream." In that way, she was very closely aligned to her character Maggie, who escapes dead-end Missouri to get to Los Angeles to train with Clint Eastwood's cranky gym owner and become a champion boxer. This was Swank's second Oscar after 1999's Boys Don't Cry, and in both movies she transcends the cliché descriptors usually used to praise her performances: grit, spunk, pluck. The Academy Awards have had a long history of celebrating underdogs, and here Swank honed in on Maggie's nowhere-else-to-go desperation, barreling through, over and under any obstacle that will keep her from finding some sense of contentment. Which only makes the cruel twist of fate that visits her character all the more senseless and tragic.