In close races, these dark horses could break out

Brenda Blethyn plays a cash-strapped widow with a green thumb and a yard full of pot in “Saving Grace.”

After last year’s kindly “Cider House” doctor, Michael Caine went on to blacker and badder things as “Quills’” grand inquisitor.

In “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” George Clooney took on a jokey period-piece requiring a Southern accent and a good amount of slapstick.

As RFK, Steven Culp, faces both a hostile U.S. military and the Cuban missile crisis in “Thirteen Days.”

Judi Dench plays a feisty, confection-loving matriarch in Miramax’s “Chocolat.”

Fellow denizen of the Weinstein sweet shop Johnny Depp has a feel-good perf as an Irish gypsy, as well as two wildly different cames in “Before Night Falls.”

“The Contender” features the clean-shaven Sam Elliott as a White House chief of staff.

The genre-busting “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” sees Chow Yun Fat as a ponytailed chopsocky master with a past.

Mel Gibson tries on a happy face for his popular comedic turn in “What Women Want.”

Kate Hudson turns heads as a rock ‘n’ roll muse in “Almost Famous.”

Greg Kinnear plays both hunter and hunted in “The Gift” and “Nurse Betty.”

“State and Main” sees former “Fargo” frontman William H. Macy as a ball-busting helmer.

Gary Oldman immersed himself in “The Contender’s” vicious senator.

First-timer Michelle Rodriguez went the distance with “Girlfight.”

“You Can Count on Me” introduced auds to Mark Ruffalo‘s achy drifter.

Hilary Swank, last year’s white-trash golden girl, turned in another trailer park performance in “The Gift.”

Denzel Washington laced up his Adidas to help us all “Remember the Titans.”

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