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Christian BaleChristian Bale
Pic: “The Prestige”
Why: Bale, who’s found his muse in director Chris Nolan (“Batman Begins” and the upcoming “The Dark Night”), has nothing up his sleeve but a performance that’s utterly convincing as a revenge-minded magician. Comparisons to a young Daniel Day-Lewis are in order, and if an Oscar nom doesn’t come this time around, it only seems a matter of time.

George ClooneyGeorge Clooney
Pic: “The Good German”
Why: It’s not every day that someone gets three different Oscar noms in three different categories, yet that’s exactly what Clooney accomplished earlier this year (winning for supporting actor). So while there’s little doubt the Acad has an affinity for him, the question this year is does the “Casablanca”-like “German” make as much impact as his films did last year?

Will FerrellWill Ferrell
Pic: “Stranger Than Fiction”
Why: It’s no secret that Ferrell’s a movie star (read: big box office draw), but “Stranger” proved he’s an actor, too. Though he’s a relative newcomer to drama, he held up his own against powerhouse thesps Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, who would seem to have the best chances for a nom from the movie.

Jude LawJude Law
Pic: “Breaking and Entering”
Why: A couple of years back, Law was in every movie during the last two months of the year — or at least it seemed that way. With “Breaking,” it’s quality over quantity with a touching perf as both Robin Wright Penn’s boyfriend and Juliette Binoche’s lover. It’s a balancing act he pulls off, but whether the film makes an impact with voters remains to be seen.

Edward NortonEdward Norton
Pic: “The Painted Veil”
Why: “Veil,” which he also produced, is a sweeping, romantic tale on foreign soil — somewhat similar in tone to “The English Patient” — and there’s no doubt voters have a soft spot for those types of pics. Also, Norton co-starred in the impressive “The Illusionist,” so there might be reason to nominate him for his cumulative accomplishments.

Ken WatanabeKen Watanabe
Pic: “Letters From Iwo Jima”
Why: If “Letters” wasn’t coming out so late in the race, Watanabe might have a higher standing. He’s marvelous as Japanese Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, brought to the desolute island to make a last stand without proper resources. The pic is an improvement from “Flags,” and if Warners is looking for Oscar hopefuls, Watanabe might be the one.

Patrick WilsonPatrick Wilson
Pic: “Little Children”
Why: Trying to hold onto his masculinity, Wilson has it castrated by Jennifer Connelly (playing his wife), only to have it rejuvenated by Kate Winslet. The film received terrific reviews and is worthy of all kudos that come its way, though voters might have a hard time voting for both Winslet and Wilson in the lead categories.