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The stage is the thing in the actress races, where one leading candidate takes to the boards while another re-creates one of legit’s most memorable sopranos.

Annette Bening, fresh from stellar reviews and actress honors from the National Board of Review, is riding high on her diva role. The veteran is well-positioned to land her third Oscar nom, 14 years after she earned her first with “The Grifters.”

Meanwhile, the long journey for director Joel Schumacher’s “The Phantom of the Opera” could pay off for 18-year-old Emmy Rossum. Her beautiful rendition of Christine’s signature song, “Think of Me,” is a defining moment for the musical — and possibly for her award chances.

This year’s field of possibles also has a large international flavor. Brit Imelda Staunton, as the tea-serving, abortion-performing matron in the powerful “Vera Drake,” may pique the interest of voters. The fact that a majority of the Academy’s acting branch resides in blue states shouldn’t be overlooked.

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French natives Audrey Tautou (“A Very Long Engagement”) and Julie Delpy (“Before Sunset”) carry the Warner Independent banner, as does Laura Dern in “We Don’t Live Here Anymore”; all three films have garnered strong reviews. Tautou’s name may be fresher on voters’ minds, however, as “Before Sunset” hit theaters back on July 2.

Long shots also have a legitimate chance this year in the actress category, and two women who may hear their names called are virtual unknowns, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Zhang Ziyi.

Moreno stars as a drug mule in the moving “Maria Full of Grace.” While Zhang barely says a word in “House of Flying Daggers,” her grace and beauty at the center of helmer Zhang Yimou’s gorgeous set pieces offer up visionary gold. If “Daggers” doesn’t give the actress enough exposure, her next U.S.-based film should do the trick. She co-stars in Rob Marshall’s “Memoirs of a Geisha,” opening in December.

ANNETTE BENING
Character: Julia Lambert
Actor’s Age: 46
Previous Oscar noms: 2*
Previous Oscar wins: 0
2004 award noms: Golden Globes (actress, musical or comedy); Broadcast Film Critics Assn.; SAG
2004 Award Wins: National Board of Review
Actress’s total B.O. since 1994: estimated $401 million
Film: Being Julia
Distributor: Sony Picture Classics
Rating: R
Release date: Oct. 15
Opening-weekend B.O.: $122,214
Opening-weekend per-screen avg.: $15,277
B.O. cume-to-date: $3,555,620
Director: Istvan Szabo

JULIE DELPY
Character: Celine
Actor’s Age: 34
Previous Oscar noms: 0*
2004 award noms: 0
Actress’s total B.O. since 1994: Estimated $48.6 million
Film: Before Sunset
Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures
Rating: R
Release date: July 2
Opening-weekend B.O.: $219,425
Opening-weekend per-screen avg.: $10,971
B.O. cume-to-date: $5,802,923
Director: Richard Linklater

LAURA DERN
Character: Terry Linden
Actor’s Age: 37
Previous Oscar noms: 1*
Prior Oscar wins: 0
2004 award noms: 0
Actress’s total B.O. since 1994: estimated $270 million
Film: We Don’t Live Here Anymore
Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures
Rating: R
Release date: Aug. 13
Opening-weekend B.O. total: $101,295
Opening-weekend per-screen avg.: $14,471
B.O. cume-to-date: $2,041,014
Director: John Curran

CATALINA SANDINO MORENO
Character: Maria Alvarez
Actor’s Age: 22
Previous Oscar noms: 0*
2004 award noms: Independent Spirit Awards; Broadcast Film Critics Assn.; SAG
Actress’s total B.O. since 1994: Estimated $6.5 Million
Film: Maria Full of Grace
Distributor: Fine Line Features
Rating: R
Release date: July 16
Opening weekend B.O.: $139,066
Opening weekend per-screen avg.: $19,867
B.O. cume-to-date: $6,529,624
Director: Joshua Marston

EMMY ROSSUM
Character: Christine
Actor’s Age: 18
Previous Oscar noms: 0*
2004 award noms: Golden Globes (actress, musical or comedy)
2004 Award Wins: National Board of Review (breakthrough actress); Bradcast Film Critics Assn. (young actress)
Actress’s total B.O. since 1994: Estimated $302 million
Film: Phantom of the Opera
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Rating: PG-13
Release date: Dec. 22
Opening-weekend B.O.: $4,001,890
Opening-weekend per-screen avg.: $6,434
B.O. cume-to-date: $16,178,431
Director: Joel Schumacher

IMELDA STAUNTON
Character: Vera Drake
Actor’s Age: 48
Previous Oscar noms: 0*
2004 award noms: Golden Globes (actress, drama); Broadcast Film Critics Assn.; SAG
2004 Award Wins: New York Film Critics Circle
Actress’s total B.O. since 1994: $254 million
Film: Vera Drake
Distributor: Fine Line Features
Rating: R
Release date: Oct. 10
Opening-weekend B.O.: $13,207
Opening-weekend per-screen avg.: $6,604
B.O. cume-to-date: $2,122,643
Director: Mike Leigh

HILARY SWANK
Character: Maggie Fitzgerald
Actor’s Age: 30
Prior Oscar noms: 1*
Prior Oscar wins: 1
2004 award noms: Golden Globes (actress, drama); SAG
2004 Award Wins: Broadcast Film Critics Assn.
Actress’s total B.O. since 1994: $132 million
Film: Million Dollar Baby
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Rating: PG-13
Release date: Dec. 15
Opening-weekend B.O.: $179,953
Opening-weekend per-screen avg.: $22,494
B.O. cume-to-date: $1,044,149
Director: Clint Eastwood

AUDREY TAUTOU
Character: Mathilde
Age: 26
Previous Oscar noms: 0*
2004 award noms: 0
Actress’s total B.O. since 1994: Estimated $49 million
Film: A Very Long Engagement
Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures
Rating: R
Release date: Nov. 26
Opening-weekend B.O. total: $101,749
Opening-weekend per-screen avg.: $25,437
B.O. cume-to-date: $2,653,129
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

KATE WINSLET
Character: Clementine Kruczynski
Actor’s Age: 29
Previous Oscar noms: 3*
Academy Oscar wins: 0
2004 award noms: Golden Globes (actress, musical or comedy, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”); Broadcast Film Critics Assn. (“Eternal Sunshine”); SAG (“Eternal Sunshine”)
Actress’s total B.O. since 1994: estimated $753 million
Film: Eternal Sunshine …
Distributor: Focus Features
Rating: R
Release date: March 19
Opening-weekend B.O.: $8,175,198
Opening-weekend per-screen avg.: $6,042
B.O. cume-to-date: $34,126,138
Director: Michael Gondry

ZHANG ZIYI
Character: Mei
Actor’s Age: 25
Previous Oscar noms: 0*
2004 award noms: 0
Actress’s total B.O. since 1994: estimated $410 million
Film: House of Flying Daggers
Distributor: Sony Picture Classics
Rating: PG-13
Release date: Dec. 3
Opening-weekend B.O.: $397,472
Opening-weekend per-screen avg.: $26,498
B.O. cume-to-date: $4,157,199
Director: Zhang Yimou