The closest Oscars race.
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Should win: Sigh. Can "all of the above" be an acceptable answer? Jessica Chastain has shown such range in her recent surge into movie stardom — her portrayal of Maya, the bin Laden–obsessed CIA officer of Zero Dark Thirty, is the opposite of the flighty, friendless, sweet Celia of The Help. Naomi Watts carries The Impossible from potential movie-of-the-week territory into excellence. And Quvenzhané Wallis: How can a tiny person do what she did in Beasts? I keep returning to this bit from A.O. Scott's New York Times review of Beasts from last June: "This movie is a blast of sheer, improbable joy, a boisterous, thrilling action movie with a protagonist who can hold her own alongside Katniss Everdeen, Princess Merida and the other brave young heroines of 2012." Without Wallis, there is no Beasts, that is for sure. But the two front-runners here are Jennifer Lawrence and Emmanuelle Riva. And it's so close! They're both wonderful performances, with Riva's Anne falling apart because of age, and Lawrence's Tiffany falling apart because of grief. For me, Lawrence was a revelation, and I wish she would win.
Will win: But I think Emmanuelle Riva has the momentum, and will take it. This pick is based on inexpressible Oscar fortune-telling that is sometimes correct (yes, last year George Clooney's Best Actor chances for The Descendants did mysteriously deflate for no real reason) and sometimes not: last year, common wisdom on Oscars day was that Meryl Streep would lose to Viola Davis because Davis had campaigned so well for The Help, whereas Streep had done her usual (nothing). But Streep won anyway. Here, Lawrence was a favorite for months, and her biggest competition was Chastain. But then Zero Dark Thirty's torture controversies escalated, and Amour got more nominations than expected, so Riva entered the scrum. She turns 86 on Sunday. I think she will get an Oscar as her present.
Unless there's a shock, this one should be easy.
Argo, William Goldenberg
Life of Pi, Tim Squyres
Lincoln, Michael Kahn
Silver Linings Playbook, Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers
Zero Dark Thirty, Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg
Should win: I'm not going to take to the streets in protest when Argo wins, but of course Zero Dark Thirty deserves it more. For the bin Laden raid scene alone.
Will win: Argo is going to win. Ben Affleck wasn't nominated for Best Director, and that was a shock. But with Argo in the lead for Best Picture, it is the clear favorite in this related category.