This year’s Best Actress class really runs the gamut. From true leads to category fraud supporting performances, from the youngest nominee ever to the oldest nominee ever, from brilliant performances to those that simply don’t belong, there’s an incredible variety in this category that makes it one of the most interesting.

The competition, however, is not as interesting as the diversity among the nominees. This category has a clear winner with a former favorite now dwindling to the status of an also-ran as the Oscar season has worn on.

So who is that surefire winner? And who embodies all those categories mentioned above

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty


The film should’ve been this performance.

Chastain was done a great disservice by Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow with respect to this role. Zero Dark Thirty had everything set up to be a searing character study of one woman’s obsession with an elusive target. A post-9/11 Moby Dick.

Instead, Boal and Bigelow took the more journalistic approach. One that reduced the depth of the film’s characters and ultimately took Chastain out of the best part of the film – the thrilling raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound.

Ultimately, it’s the way in which her character’s story was told that will ultimately doom Chastain when this category’s winner is announced. She missed that devastating Oscar scene and that overwhelming arc that resonates with voters.

That’s not to say the performance wasn’t great and that the film wasn’t one of the best of the year – it just wasn’t the type of film that garners awards for its actors as it was far more concerned with docudrama authenticity than it was with giving its actors full-bore characters to develop. And it coulda been. It really coulda been.

That’s how a former front-runner ends up playing for second.


Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook


The clear front-runner and the clear deserving winner in this category is Lawrence’s delightfully damaged Tiffany Maxwell. Played without much of a filter, Lawrence must walk the prickly acting tightrope that is playing crazy while staying grounded enough to make the performance believable.

Lawrence is so good it must drive her competition mad.

From the moment we meet Tiffany she’s a complete character. We know her quirks, understand her neuroses and despite her brazen lack of tact, nothing seems abnormal because of how fully-formed Lawrence’s character is the instant she appears onscreen. No other performance in this category and very few that you’ll ever see, has the degree of difficulty that this one does or such a flawless execution. It’s really a marvel.

Yes, category fraud could be argued here as the film was really Bradley Cooper’s character’s stories from the oustet, but in the end, it became their story and it’s Lawrence’s magnetic work that allows that transformation to occur.

Emmanuelle Riva in Amour


Put this in the category of the brilliant, nuanced and heartbreaking performance that just got steamrolled by a buzzsaw of hype, The Weinsteins and actual merit.

Riva does extremely delicate work in this film, showing with startling efficacy the pain and beauty of her predicament and her relationship.

This is the type of performance that should win these awards but never does because the film is too small and the subject matter too difficult for the Academy to award. Add this to the Janet McTeer, Julie Christie, Felicity Huffman, Catalina Sandino Moreno group of performance that end up neglected by Oscar.

Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

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I’ve never understood the Academy’s obsession with kiddie performance, but never before had I been so befuddled than I was with this nomination.

The performance is done mostly in voiceover. And not in interesting voiceover either. More documentary voiceover as read by somebody in kindergarten giving a presentation to her class about animals and life in her hometown.

The remainder of the performance is a heavily-edited bit of walking and staring that is simply a product of filmmaking rather than acting. To think any actor could not have had the same performance coached and edited out of them is a stretch.

Far be it from me to insult a child, but this is a foolish nomination and luckily the Academy won’t be foolish enough to follow through with giving her the award.

Naomi Watts in The Impossible


It’s kind of ridiculous to see a performance like Watts’ nominated for an Oscar. It’s one of those performances that’s so grueling and intense that many are fooled into thinking it’s a great piece of acting. Except it isn’t.

Films like these and performances like these are really nothing more than the type of acting required in a torture porn movie or a disaster flick. The makeup does most of the work while the actor simply reacts to imaginary pain and suffering with the required amount of realism to make their performance believable.

Nothing is revealed about the character. No arc is followed. No journey taken. It’s just suffering with the most basic presentational acting techniques on display.

This is a nothing performance and borderline category fraud as Watts basically doesn’t appear in the second half of the film. She hasn’t got a shot at winning and there’s no reason she should.

Road to the Oscars Series

January 14: Best Visual Effects – Ian Murphy

January 16: Best Sound Editing – Ian Murphy

January 18: Best Sound Mixing – Michael Benedict

January 21: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

January 23: Best Costume Design – Ian Murphy

January 25: Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Rebecca Susmarski

January 28: Best Film Editing – Dan Schindel

January 30: Best Production Design – Scott Youngbauer

February 1: Best Animated Feature – Carlos Aguilar

February 4: Best Documentary Feature – Dan Schindel

February 7: Best Documentary Short Subject – Dan Schindel

February 8: Best Live Action Short – Carlos Aguilar

February 9: Best Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 10: Best Foreign Language Film – Carlos Aguilar

February 11: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Screenplay – Dan Schindel

February 14: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Supporting Actor – Angela Stern

February 17: Best Supporting Actress – Hiko Mitsuzuka

February 18: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 19: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 20: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Picture – Kit Bowen

February 24: 85th Annual Academy Awards