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With the Academy Awards coming up in the next few weeks, the entertainment world is abuzz with who deserves what. And because of this year’s expanded best-picture category, there are even more actors and films to fawn over.

Unfortunately, along with Oscar nominations comes the usual pretentiousness—-“If you haven’t seen An Education, then you’re missing out on one of the best films of 2010,” or “If you’ve seen and enjoyed Avatar, you’re just going along with the masses.” What most seem to forget is that even our favorite actors, in the most complex, artistic Oscar-nominated films, have had dark movie pasts. To get to the top, most have to start at the bottom.

Take Anna Kendrick, one of this year’s nominees for best actress in a supporting role. Director Jason Reitman said that Kendrick was “so witty and smart and sharp, and I needed a girl who could go toe-to-toe with George Clooney, and she was the one.” Another movie that Kendrick was the one for? The teen (and arguably, creepy mom) sensation Twilight, in the bit part of Jessica, one of Bella’s best friends. Kendrick’s few lines in the vampire series are arguably the most well-acted and memorable of the bunch, but most audiences and critics seem to claim that she got the role for Up in the Air in spite of the multimillion-dollar-grossing films. Even Kendrick herself seems conflicted about the Twilight saga: “I feel a certain affection for the films so if they ask me [to be in the fourth one], I would love to. I don’t have my fingers crossed either way. I’ve been really lucky not to be defined completely by that series.”

Already an Oscar winner for best original screenplay for the 1997 hit Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon is nominated this year for best actor in a supporting role for his turn in Invictus. Damon’s had a stream of hits in the past few years, including the Bourne series, the Ocean’s movies, and The Departed. Also included on his résumé are the decidedly less successful (and critically panned) Jersey Girl, Stuck on You, All the Pretty Horses, and The Legend of Bagger Vance—to name a few.

It’s rare in this day and age to encounter a story like Gabourey Sidibe‘s, nominated for best actress in a leading role for her first and only film part, in Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. Most actors and actresses come with storied pasts, starring as leads (and extras) in films that have been both ignored or heavily criticized. Even Oscar favorites like Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep have doozies on their CVs. (Mirren was the titular character in the teen suspense movie Teaching Mrs. Tingle, while Streep still gets barbs for starring in She-Devil.)

When you watch the Oscars this year to see your favorites pick up their golden statuettes, remember that the big steps leading to the stage aren’t the only ones they’ve taken—we all have a Twilight in our past.