Steve’s Oscar Predictions, Part 4: Best Actress

Best Actress Nominations (odds of winning):

Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) (3 to 1)

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) (4 to 1)

Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) (6 to 1)

Naomi Watts (The Impossible) (20 to 1)

Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) (40 to 1)

beasts-of-the-southern-wild01 copy

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence

Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence

Like Best Supporting Actor, this is a tough one to call. That was true even before the BAFTAs, when it seemed to be a tight race between Lawrence and Chastain. With Riva winning the BAFTA, it may now be a three way race, but I still think it will come down to Jennifer or Jessica. I think (and I hope) that Jennifer will pull it out. She gave the part of Tiffany just the right mix of darkness and light and is a major reason why Silver Linings Playbook rises above being just another rom-com. Like so many others, I fell in love with her acting in Winter’s Bone and I couldn’t wait to see where her career would go from there. Although I thought she did a fine job as Katniss, neither that nor the other roles she’s had since Winter’s Bone have really given her a chance to shine until this one and shine she did. Now that she knows just how good she can be, I’m excited to see how that will affect her work in the final Hunger Game films. She should win here, but if she doesn’t she shouldn’t fret. More nominations are sure to be coming her way in the future.

If I was directing a movie, I would make sure that there was a role for Jessica Chastain. Is there a better actress working today? Since she burst into my consciousness a couple of years ago, I have been enthralled with her work. She was amazing in The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and The Help. She didn’t have a lot to do in Lawless, but she still brought an effervescence to her limited role. That being said, I was not overly impressed with her work in Zero Dark Thirty. Something rang false. At times her reactions seemed out of sync with what was happening in the film. I’m not sure the fault is all hers, though. It may have something to do with Kathryn Bigelow’s directing. My complaint about The Hurt Locker is that it also rang false. So, I would not give Chastain the Oscar for this performance, but if she does win it will not be a travesty of justice.

Does Riva’s BAFTA win mean that she has a legitimate shot at the Oscar? She’s had a long career, but most of it in French films, so a BAFTA win doesn’t necessarily translate to recognition by the Academy. They have shown an inclination in the past to award older actors, but I’d be surprised if they do so in this case. I haven’t seen Amour yet so I can’t speak about my impressions of her performance. That also goes for Watts in The Impossible. The word is that she delivers a great performance in a demanding role, but for many of us all we have to go on is that word. Presumably the members of the Academy have seen it, but with so little buzz surrounding it, I doubt Watts has much of a chance.

The least likely victor in this category is Quvenzhané Wallis, the youngest Best Actress nominee ever. As much as I’d like to see Lawrence win, I’d love to see Wallis pull off the upset. Beasts of the Southern Wild is quite possibly my favorite movie of the year and I’d like to see it recognized by the Academy in some way. The first time I saw it I thought that Wallis’ work was quite remarkable for such a young actress with no prior experience. In subsequent viewings, I have been even more deeply moved by her performance. There are those that argue that she shouldn’t have been nominated, that there were brilliant performances by seasoned actresses that were overlooked. Undoubtedly, it is true that there are others deserving nominations this year. It was a good year at the movies and, thankfully, that included good roles for women. The argument against Wallis goes on to say that many of her lines were done as voiceovers and that essentially all she did was pose and stare, simply doing what the director told her to do. There is some truth in those statements; however, there is more to it than that. Good acting always includes following the director’s instructions and Behn Zeitlin certainly deserves credit for drawing this performance out of Quvenzhané. Truly powerful acting requires going beyond merely following instructions in order to deliver an emotional edge that brings a character to life. Wallis delivered a powerful performance. Did she understand what she was doing? Did she do it on purpose? Probably not, but it was wonderful all the same. Will she win? Of course not, but I’d love to see it happen.

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