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Bale, Leo have a fighting chance at supporting-actor Oscars

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Here are the contenders:

- Jeremy Renner, "The Town." Renner followed up his reckless Army bomb defuser in 2009's "The Hurt Locker" with a trigger-happy bank robber in this crime drama from Ben Affleck. Renner again drew fine notices, but his rising star hasn't yet hit the firmament.

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- Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right." Call him the straight man in this comedy-drama about a lesbian couple. Though widely considered a top-notch actor, Ruffalo has a natural, deceptively easy style, which may explain why he had never before gotten an Oscar nomination.

- John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone." John who? Think of him as a male Melissa Leo. After years of hard work in the bit-part trenches, he lands a major role in this gritty indie drama and now, at 51, finds himself in need of an Oscar-night tuxedo. He won't win, but he's worth rooting for.

- Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech." In any other year, Rush would win for his terrific portrayal of real-life eccentric vocal coach Lionel Logue. The movie will likely win many awards, just not this one.

- Christian Bale, "The Fighter." And in this corner, it's not the movie's star, Mark Wahlberg, but Bale who seems destined for an Oscar knockout. Bale dropped 30 pounds to play a crack-addicted former boxer, and his performance has made him the heavyweight in this fight.

Best Supporting Actress

The winner seems already decided, but this year's list of supporting actress Oscar nominees is still full of surprises.

One is Jacki Weaver, an Australian few Americans had heard of until she earned a nod for playing a crime-family matriarch in the thriller "Animal Kingdom." Another is young Hailee Steinfeld, who plays a little girl gunning for rough justice in "True Grit," the Coen brothers Western that has done unexpectedly well at the Oscars with 10 nominations, second only to "The King's Speech" with 12.

There's also the Melissa Leo question. The front-runner's unorthodox Oscar campaign, in which she took out her own ads in trade publications, has raised enough eyebrows that a last-minute win for Helena Bonham Carter ("The King's Speech") almost seems possible.

Leo remains the front-runner, but the mini-scandal has at least helped spice up this particular race. Here are the ladies in waiting:

- Amy Adams, "The Fighter." As a no-nonsense bartender, Adams delivered one of this film's best performances. But just as Mark Wahlberg paled next to Christian Bale, Adams has been outshone by Leo.

- Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit." The bad news: She won't win. The good news: She's now an Oscar-nominated 14-year-old whose first major role came in a Coen brothers film alongside Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin.

- Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom." This film has earned just over $1 million in ticket sales, according to BoxOfficeMojo, which means few people have even seen it. Luckily for Weaver, academy voters were among them.

- Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech." After a long stretch of cartoony roles in the "Harry Potter" films and partner Tim Burton's 2010 version of "Alice in Wonderland," Bonham returned to classical form as the young Queen Mother. The contrarian view says this could be her year.

- Melissa Leo, "The Fighter." As the chain-smoking mother of a crack addict, Leo delivered such a spot-on performance that this race seems hers to lose. And could she, given her rogue Oscar campaign? Either way, let's hope for a close-up when the winner is announced.

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