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— Jane O'Donnell

When it comes to acting, talent matters. Subtlety counts. Passion scores big. And if there's talent, subtlety, passion and the person also looks smoking in a silk gown or classic tux? We notice. Here, then, are 10 of this year's hottest Oscar nominees. Enjoy the sights.

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Keira Knightley: Best Actress nominee, "Pride & Prejudice"

Style: A serenely pretty face and graceful form belie the spirit of a tenacious fighter (see "Bend It Like Beckham," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Pride & Prejudice," "Domino," etc.)

Born: Teddington, England, 1985

First Big Break: "Bend It Like Beckham"

Five Films: "Bend It Like Beckham," "Pure," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "King Arthur," "Domino"

Upcoming Projects: "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequels and the period pieces "Silk" and "That Other Boleyn Girl"

Other Talents: Trained in ballet, plays flute and piano

Quote: "I think I'll carry on being an actress until I want to be something else and then I'll try that."



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Terrence Howard: Best Actor nominee, "Hustle & Flow"

Born: Chicago, 1969

Style: Known for bringing a rare intensity and dedication to a huge variety of roles, whether he's playing a humiliated television exec ("Crash") or a Memphis street hustler ("Hustle & Flow").

First Big Break: Played Jackie in the TV movie "The Jacksons: An American Dream"

Five Films: "The Best Man," "Butter," "Hart's War," "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," "Crash"

Upcoming Projects: "Idlewild," "Awake," "August Rush"

Other Talents: Plays piano and guitar; has a degree in chemical engineering

Quote: "I didn't want to play a pimp because I'm a father. And ['Hustle & Flow' director Craig Brewer] said, 'That's exactly why I want you to do it. These girls are not just pieces of trash.' If I had to pimp my children, how would that affect me as a man?" — on finding a way to play his character, DJay, in "Hustle & Flow"



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Charlize Theron: Best Actress nominee, "North Country"

Style: Elements of fragility and eagerness add compelling dimension to characters that could otherwise be easily written off as evil ("Monster") or too quickly championed ("North Country").

Born: Benoni, South Africa, 1975

First Big Break: "2 Days in the Valley"

Five Films: "The Devil's Advocate," "The Cider House Rules," "Trapped," "Monster," "The Italian Job"

Upcoming Projects: "The Brazilian Job," "The Ice at the Bottom of the World"

Other Talents: Modeling

Quote: "With this material, so many people said, 'Oh, you're doing the gritty thing again.' I don't care about that as long as I'm doing something that's real and true and creatively satisfying to me." — on playing a miner in "North Country"



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Heath Ledger: Best Actor nominee, "Brokeback Mountain"

Style: Just when you think you have a handle on his quiet power ("The Patriot," "Brokeback Mountain") or playful edge ("Brothers Grimm," "Casanova"), he throws a wrench in the works ("Lords of Dogtown")

Born: Perth, Australia, 1979

First Big Break: Played an action hero in the fantasy TV series "Roar"

Five Films: "10 Things I Hate About You," "A Knight's Tale," "Monster's Ball," "Lords of Dogtown," "Casanova"

Upcoming Projects: Stars as a heroin addict in "Candy"

Other Talents: Field hockey; he gave up the sport to focus on acting

Quote: "He was battling himself. He was battling his genetic structure. ... I wanted to physicalize it in his walk and in his speech." — on portraying Ennis in "Brokeback Mountain"



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Reese Witherspoon: Best Actress nominee, "Walk the Line"

Style: Whether she's playing a pathologically ambitious high schooler ("Election"), a surprisingly driven fashion plate ("Legally Blonde") or a strong-willed country legend ("Walk the Line"), her characters get the job done.

Born: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1976

First Big Break: "The Man in the Moon"

Five Films: "The Man in the Moon," "Freeway," "Election," "Legally Blonde," "Vanity Fair"

Upcoming Projects: Starring in and producing "Penelope" and "Bunny Lake Is Missing"

Other Talents: Gymnastics and cheerleading

Quote: "Country music is just part of my heritage and my upbringing and it's in my blood. I played Mama Maybelle Carter [June's mother] in a fourth-grade play." — on playing June Carter in "Walk the Line"



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Joaquin Phoenix: Best Actor nominee, "Walk the Line"

Style: Save for his scenery-chewing turn as Commodus in "Gladiator" (a performance that won over Johnny Cash himself), Phoenix usually conveys his onscreen force with nuance and vulnerability.

Born: San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1974

First Big Break: "SpaceCamp"

Five Films: "To Die For," "Return to Paradise," "Gladiator," "Signs," "Ladder 49"

Upcoming Projects: "We Own the Night," a crime drama set in New York's club scene

Other Talents: Music (that was his voice and guitar in "Walk the Line") and directing (videos for People in Planes and Ringside)

Quote: "I always loved music growing up, but I never really played and I think that now I kind of understand music differently." — on playing Johnny Cash



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Michelle Williams: Best Supporting Actress nominee, "Brokeback Mountain"

Style: Playing a 15-year-old who exposes a president's lies in "Dick" or a cuckolded wife in "Brokeback," Williams is all about holding back just enough to hint at something below the surface that's ready to blow.

Born: Kalispell, Montana, 1980

First Big Break: "Dawson's Creek"

Five Films: "Species," "Halloween: H20," "Dick," "Me Without You," "The Station Agent"

Upcoming Projects: "The Hottest State," based on an Ethan Hawke novel

Other Talents: Finance; at age 16, she won a futures-trading competition, turning $10,000 into more than $100,000.

Quote: "Even before I got caught up in the love story between the two men, my heart was with her." — on Alma, her character in "Brokeback Mountain"



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Jake Gyllenhaal: Best Supporting Actor nominee, "Brokeback Mountain"

Style: Ranges from warm and openhearted ("Bubble Boy") to conflicted and hard-to-read ("Donnie Darko," "Moonlight Mile"); brought all of the above to his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Jack Twist

Born: Los Angeles, 1980

First Big Break: Playing a would-be astronaut in "October Sky"

Five Films: "October Sky," "Donnie Darko," "The Good Girl," "The Day After Tomorrow," "Jarhead"

Upcoming Projects: plays a reporter tracking a serial killer in the fact-based "Zodiac"

Other Talents: Worked as a lifeguard for three years

Quote: "I know so many kids my age who can't have any relationship at all ... because we misunderstand the idea of love. That's what this movie's about." — on "Brokeback Mountain"



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Rachel Weisz: Best Supporting Actress nominee, "The Constant Gardner"

Style: Fiery passion in a perfectly poised package fits everything from weighty period dramas ("Sunshine") to silly action films ("The Mummy").

Born: London, 1971

First Big Break: "The Scarlet and the Black" miniseries (co-starring Ewan McGregor)

Five Films: "Swept From the Sea," "Going All the Way," "The Mummy," "About a Boy," "Constantine"

Upcoming Projects: "The Fountain," "Heaven and Earth"

Other Talents: Studied English at Cambridge University and graduated with second-class honors

Quote: "For me it was a privilege to get to see lives and culture you normally wouldn't see. It was inspirational, because they have less than nothing ... but their spirits were so full." — on filming "The Constant Gardener" in Kenya's slums



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George Clooney: Best Supporting Actor nominee, "Syriana"; also in the running for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for "Good Night, and Good Luck"

Style: Convincing as a dashing charmer ("Oceans Eleven," "Out of Sight"), he piled on pounds, tackled a tough issue and made critics take notice in "Syriana"

Born: Lexington, Kentucky, 1961

First Big Break: Sitcom heartthrob on "The Facts of Life"

Five Films: "From Dusk Till Dawn," "Out of Sight," "Three Kings," "O Brother Where Art Thou?," "The Perfect Storm"

Upcoming Projects: "The Good German," "Michael Clayton"

Other Talents: Baseball; he once tried out for a spot on the Cincinnati Reds

Quote: "There will be someone from every walk of life angry at us, but that's good." — on "Syriana"




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