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No film was more talked about and heavily debated this year than “Borat,” and rarely has an actor so prolifically promoted a film in character as Sacha Baron Cohen. The dearth of laugh-out-loud comedies this year would seem to make Baron Cohen the 800-pound gorilla in the race, but “Borat” fatigue and the controversy surrounding the film and its less-than-flattering portrayal of Americans could hold it up. The real question is: Should he win, will Baron Cohen accept the honor in character?

Johnny Depp has six previous noms, including one in this category a few years ago for the same role of Captain Jack Sparrow in the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film. Star power alone could propel Depp to the top of the list if the HFPA becomes squeamish about “Borat.” But with the second “Pirates” failing to generate the surprise impact for Depp’s Keith Richards-inspired perf, it would be no surprise if Depp were to go 0-for-7.

Expect partying with the HFPA to become the hottest ticket in town, since this year’s noms show that the org obviously has all the best drugs: How else to explain the left-field nomination of Chiwetel Ejiofor — a talented, accompished actor better known in the U.K. — for “Kinky Boots,” a film so far off the kudos radar this year that it’s not an unreasonable question to ask if anyone other than the HFPA has seen it.

It’s clear the actor is well liked by the HFPA — he also was nominated for the TV miniseries “Tsunami, the Aftermath” — but it’s hard to imagine the nomination isn’t more than enough for the pic and for the HFPA on this one.

“Thank You for Smoking,” the year’s No. 2 indie darling after “Little Miss Sunshine,” got its kick from Aaron Eckhart’s ability to make an unapologetic tobacco industry spokesman both likable and funny. Poking fun at publicity is something the HFPA could get behind, but Eckhart lacks the star power the HFPA usually prefers, making the org more likely to say “thank you for playing.”

“Stranger Than Fiction’s” Will Ferrell moves up a notch in class from hit comedies like “Talladega Nights.” Ferrell’s been looking for a role to prove his serious acting chops, much like what “The Truman Show” did for Jim Carrey. While the HFPA appreciates classier attempts at humor, “Fiction” failed to generate the quantity of laughs expected from Ferrell, making it unlikely he will rise to the top this year.