Awards season in Hollywood is one of the few times we actually get to see dramatic designer gowns off the catwalk—an exciting prospect for us fashion stargazers. Actresses have a bounty of stunning dresses to choose from (the Spring 2013 haute couture runways have just wrapped and Fall 2013 is in full swing), like sleek columns and elaborately beaded and embroidered confections.

The red carpet for the 85th Academy Awards rolls out this Sunday. But before it does, I’m looking back at my picks for last year’s best-dressed actresses. Here’s hoping the 2013 frontrunners—Kerry Washington, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawrence, and Marion Cotillard among them—will deliver similar A-list style.

Oscar 2012 Top 5

Gwyneth Paltrow did modern glamour right in a high-impact Tom Ford gown and matching cape (pictured, above).

Michelle Williams, in Louis Vuitton, showed how super-saturated color can still look pretty and sweet.

Working a Baroque Alexander McQueen gown against more natural, Renaissance-inspired hair and makeup allowed Jessica Chastain to be opulent without overstepping.

A redhead in a bright pink gown may sound counter-intuitive, but Emma Stone let the color do the talking—no bedazzling or extraneous jewelry—and looked simply stunning in Giambattista Valli Haute Couture.

Riccardo Tisci is one of the most fashion-forward designers working today, and Rooney Mara kept her Givenchy Haute Couture look glamorous but minimal with barely there jewelry and zero accessories.

Bonus: I’ll be living tweeting about all the Oscar red carpet looks—the good, the bad, and the ridiculous—on Sunday.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock: Gwyneth Paltrow; Michelle Williams; Jessica Chastain; Emma Stone; Rooney Mara

Follow fashion editor Georgia Benjou on Twitter at @gabenjou & Pinterest at /gabenjou.