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Best Actor

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RUSSELL CROWE FOR HIM The hottest streak in Hollywood continues with his protean, emotionally rich work as the schizophrenic genius of A Beautiful Mind; even the film’s detractors admit he’s great. AGAINST HIM He’s not Mr. Popularity — and two years in a row for the Gladiator champ? Too much too soon. As for his BAFTA poetry tantrum, what rhymes with ”sore winner”? 3-2 ODDS

SEAN PENN FOR HIM His showy role as a mentally challenged single father is classic Oscar bait; sooner or later the Academy has to reward the man many think is the greatest film actor of his generation. AGAINST HIM Maybe later. While I Am Sam is, surprisingly, clicking with some older voters, this year it’s a two-man race, and he isn’t one of ’em. 5-1 ODDS

WILL SMITH FOR HIM He took a high-degree-of-difficulty challenge — playing one of the most recognizable men in the world — and delivered a credible, intelligent, and convincing performance as the hero of Ali. AGAINST HIM The Greatest? Not this year. His nomination is a vote of confidence in his future work, but voters have cooled on the movie. 15-1 ODDS

DENZEL WASHINGTON FOR HIM An image-busting star turn as the corrupt cop of Training Day wowed even his admirers; in a history-making year for black actors at the Oscars, his is the performance that voters are rallying behind. AGAINST HIM Media coverage of Oscar’s abysmal track record on race has irked some voters; others say this glorified cop film isn’t Oscar material. 7-5 ODDS

TOM WILKINSON FOR HIM He carries the emotional weight of In the Bedroom with beautifully nuanced work as a grief-stricken father; Oscar voters love it when someone comes out of deep left field (think Geoffrey Rush) to earn a nomination the old-fashioned way. AGAINST HIM Understatement may be an acting virtue, but it’s rarely an effective road to the podium. 10-1 ODDS

THE LOWDOWN Who’ll be the man to take home his second Oscar? Our guess says it’s Washington’s night to make history