Oscar Watch: Predicting Best Actress

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With our recent Oscar Watch: Predicting Best Supporting Actress column, we made our pick for those sharing the spotlight in their films. Now, we're ready for a close-up on the leading ladies of cinema 2012.

When the Academy Award nominations were announced, the consensus was that Jennifer Lawrence was the leader for her turn in Silver Linings Playbook. Sure, she's won some of the pre-Oscar statues, but does that necessarily mean she's a lock come Academy Awards night? Remember... Jessica Chastain won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama.

Zero Dark Thirty Star Jessica Chastain

Chastain riveted with her role in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. The actress portrays Maya, the CIA agent working tirelessly for a decade to track down and kill America's biggest enemy: Osama bin Laden. As shown in the Zero Dark Thirty trailer, Chastain is the heart and soul of this story.

The film is a testament to the entire legion of patriots who devoted their lives to bringing down the man who authorized the killing of thousands of Americans. But in film we must root for a singular hero or heroine, and through Chastain's performance she manages to represent all those who gave their lives to bring justice to those who died on 9/11.

Jennifer Lawrence showed another side of herself with her role in Silver Linings Playbook. Her mesmerizing inhabiting of a widow of a cop killed while on duty is transfixing, tragic and triumphant.

Much of the credit for her success in this film, Movie Fanatic stated in our Silver Linings Playbook review, is due to her bouncing off of fellow nominee Bradley Cooper and one particular scene where she goes toe-to-toe with another Oscar nominee for the film, Robert De Niro. Lawrence shows why she is among the elite of not only her generation, but of this year's Best Actress class.

Jennifer Lawrence Bradley Cooper Silver Linings Playbook

In Amour, Emmanuelle Riva manages to channel something anyone of her mature age would be terrified to inhabit. Yet, over the course of the foreign film from Austria and Germany, she breaks our heart as one half of a long term marriage who is slowly falling apart. In a field where performers can be obsessed with vanity, Riva's work in Amour is nothing short of a miracle.

She puts herself out there in a way that not only elevates the material, but also the audience who has the honor of seeing such God-given talent showcased.

Quvenzhane Wallis arrived in the most seismic of ways with her powerful turn in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Just watch the Beasts of the Southern Wild trailer and try to not be moved by the young actress' turn as a child beyond her years who survives in the most challenging of geographical and familial circumstances. She became the youngest actress in history to be nominated, so although she won't win this year... this little powder keg of talent will be back.

Naomi Watts achieved the impossible in The Impossible. Through her tear-inducing, legend-making performance as the real life mother of three small children who survived the 2004 Thailand tsunami, tragedy is brought to life on screen as we've never seen it before. Simply watch her lose it while hanging onto a tree branch in The Impossible trailer and one can see why this role is being honored at the Academy Awards.

Naomi Watts and Tom Holland in The Impossible

In any other year, we believe Watts would and should be taking home the bald, golden man. The 2013 Oscars will come down to Lawrence or Chastain. Of those two, Chastain deserves it. Can you imagine Zero Dark Thirty without her far-reaching and riveting arc? But, given the actor-ly love for Silver Linings Playbook (all of its lead performers are nominated) and the desire of the Academy to seem hip by giving a trophy to the star of The Hunger Games, look for Lawrence to win February 24.

This is one of those cases where the will win and the should win -- in our book -- is completely different.

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