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The Screening Room

When actresses turn ugly ...

By Mairi Mackay, CNN
  • Mariah Carey is unusually plain in latest role in "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire"
  • Her performance as a social worker has bagged her formerly-elusive critical approval
  • Many of Hollywood's most glamorous have dressed down around awards season
  • Actresses hope to be taken seriously and bag a golden statue in the process

London, England (CNN) -- One movie, more than any other, has planted its flag in the sand as the movie industry gears up for the awards season.

"Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire," has emerged as this year's breakout indie hit to beat.

Critically-acclaimed on the international festival circuit, it is the only film to win the audience award at both Sundance Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival -- the latter a steadily reliable predictor of Oscar.

Last weekend it broke indie film records at the domestic box office.

"Precious" tells the tale of an obese, illiterate teenager -- played by 24-year-old newcomer Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe -- struggling to survive in 1980s Harlem.

It boasts Oprah Winfrey among its producers and features the curious distinction of usually-glam pop diva Mariah Carey as a pale-faced and plain social worker.

And that's where "Precious" plays another classic awards card -- Carey dressing down.

What actress do you think has dressed down to best effect? Tell us below in the SoundOff box

The makeup comes off, big hair gets flat and the clothes curiously dowdy -- all in the hopes of bagging a golden statue.

Better known for her chart-topping music career and short hemlines, Carey's unexpectedly low-key performance has been met with critical approval -- a far cry from the drubbing she received in 2001 for semi-autobiographical "Glitter," in which she played a more true-to-type character.

It could be called the "take-me-seriously" effect, and Carey is not the only actress to dress down to impress the pundits around awards season. The makeup comes off, big hair gets flat and the clothes curiously dowdy -- all in the hopes of bagging a golden statue.

After all, what better way to demonstrate artistic commitment than by cutting off the hair that won a lucrative advertising contract or trashing an enviable figure by putting on 20 pounds?

The male equivalent is bulking up, like Robert De Niro did to play self-destructive boxer Jake La Motta in "Raging Bull"; or down, like Christian Bale did to skeletal proportions in "The Machinist."

But when it comes to the ladies, it can sometimes be the showiest peacocks in the showbiz firmament who remove their plumes to show off their range and their seriousness.

If you want to see more, we've compiled a gallery of the most surprising transformations from screen siren to plain Jane -- and whether their efforts were acknowledged at the film awards.

Nick Hunt contributed to this report.