The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart, we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

The nominees for Best Actress are:

  • Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
  • Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Naomi Watts, The Impossible

John

Whew, this is a tough category. It’s so tough that if I was a real voter I would consider not casting a ballot at all. My preferences between Riva, Chastain, and Lawrence are just that tight.

Riva plays a woman who has been partially paralyzed after a stroke. Her performance is naturally very physical and she puts that on display in a few particularly harrowing scenes, like when she’s shouting gibberish through half her mouth. Chastain is a study in resolve. She is commanding, direct, and, yes, a little cold. She’s also the one actress of these three that could be said to really dominate her movie, that her performance is a defining elements of the film.

It’s a function of the material she has to work with, but I occasionally had trouble believing the lines Lawrence was delivering. This was mostly the case when she was at either her most fierce or most vulnerable. To some extent I just don’t think the film utilizes her character well: I feel like she’s a character I want to see in a movie and I don’t know what the hell the other people are doing there. Still, it’s a good performance and except for those few quibbles she pulls the movie through some real rough spots. She’s almost a breath of fresh air when she comes on the screen, saving us from Bradley Cooper’s neurosis.

So who to choose? I’m not sure. My mind may change before the Oscar ceremony both for who

is most deserving and who I hope will win. I’ll admit I’m kind of rooting for Riva. But I will choose Jessica Chastain on merit.

Going into The Impossible knowing that Watts earned a nomination, I expected more from the role. Her struggles in the tsunami are terrifying but the final 2/3 of the movie finds her bedridden, injured and moaning. I feel like if this sort of thing appeals to you, you have Riva doing it to greater effect. And I certainly don’t begrudge Wallis’s nomination and she really carries her movie. Adages about child acting aside, I just found her the other nominees more compelling.

Jared

Quvenzhane Wallis is more anecdotal proof that child actors keep getting better and better.  I’m not sure I’d put her in my top 20, but part of that is the material and anyway I’m not going to say anything bad about someone whose age is in the single digits.

I liked The Impossible more than I was expecting, and some of that was definitely due to Naomi Watts.  Her problem here is mostly screen time.  I don’t think it would be category fraud to bump her down to supporting actress.  Because she doesn’t really have the material needed to compete here.

I suppose it is possible I’ve got a personal backlash against Amour going on, but I’m clearly missing something here.  Emmanuelle Riva was good, but if you want to give her a lifetime achievement award, fine,  then give her a lifetime achievement award.  Don’t overrate her performance.  She virtually disappears for a good chunk of the movie, leaving me wondering why Jean-Louis Trintignant wasn’t getting the awards attention.

Jessica Chastain is quickly rising up the list of actors or actresses I would cast in a movie if I had to pick a cast without knowing anything about the script.  The first third or so of the movie isn’t particularly strong, but Jessica Chastain a large part of the reason to stick through it.  The role isn’t really what jumps to mind when one thinks Oscar – there’s no big crying scene or wild emoting, which makes it all the more impressive Chastain got the nomination.

For me, though, Jennifer Lawrence is this year’s best actress.  Frankly, it is isn’t particularly close.  Saddled with a rather mediocre script, Lawrence lights up the screen, creating a vivid and interesting character.  She nearly singlehandedly turns Silver Linings Playbook into something watchable.  I firmly believe the awards love that the film and script are getting are ridiculous.  But I just as firmly believe none of that would be happening without Lawrence.  Honestly, I find it baffling that anyone could reach a different conclusion for this category.

Should have been here: My top five  goes Chastain, Lawrence, Jennifer Lawrence (again), The Hunger Games; Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea; Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz

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