One of the most talked about categories at this year’s Oscars, and one of my personal favorites, is the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. This year features one of the most unique fields the category has ever known. Not only does Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) become the oldest Best Actress nominee of all time (85 years, 321 days), but Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) also becomes the youngest Best Actress nominee of all time (9 years, 135 days). An even more impressive fact about Wallis’ nomination—she was actually only six years old when the movie was made! The rest of this year’s group features actresses that have previously been nominated for Academy Awards. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:
WINNER: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
In Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany Maxwell, an eccentric widow with emotional issues due to her husband’s death. In every way possible, Lawrence gives a performance that everyone will remember for a long time. She plays a character that is oddly twisted and severely bizarre, but the emotion and dexterity she brings to this portrayal is something I watched in absolute awe. In a year with some startlingly remarkable female performances, Lawrence stands out and deserves this great honor. Lawrence was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her breakout role in Winter’s Bone (2010).
2. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
In Zero Dark Thirty, Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a CIA agent that devotes a decade to hunting down the world’s most dangerous man—Osama bin Laden. Even though this film has been met with great criticism over the content, one thing that has not received anything but sheer admiration is the performance Chastain gives as the determined agent. I went back and forth about who I thought truly gave the better performance this year, but even though Chastain would probably win this Oscar in any other year, I concluded that it was not as dominate as Lawrence’s performance. Chastain was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Help (2011).
3. Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
In Amour, Emmanuelle Riva plays Anna, a retired music teacher that suffers a stroke. After her incident, she is never quite the same, and the enduring, loving relationship with her husband is tested in every way. As the oldest nominee of all time for Best Actress, Riva takes on one of the most complex roles of the year. The role is not just multifarious for the emotional requirements of the performance but also for the physical characteristics that it mandates. I was more than impressed with her portrayal, and as a fan of film, I am lucky to have seen Riva’s astounding performance this year. Riva has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.
4. Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
In Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhané Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a 6-year-old girl living with her father Wink in an area known as “The Bathtub” below the levee in southern Louisiana. A deadly storm is on its way to the region, and Hushpuppy and her father must fight to survive. Wallis gives one of the brightest performances of any actor or actress this year, and it is amazing to think someone so young could provide us with a gem like this. Some absolutely stellar performances will more than likely beat out Wallis for this Oscar, but if her future portrayals are anything like this one, she is sure to be back at the Academy Awards many times in the future. Wallis has not been previously nominated for any Academy Awards.
5. Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
In The Impossible, Naomi Watts plays Maria Bennett, a woman on vacation in Thailand with her family when a devastating tsunami comes ashore and demolishes everything in its sight. The film is based on the true experiences of the Belón family during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. While Watts does give an emotional performance, and arguably one of the better portrayals of her career, I was more than surprised when she received a nomination. She did a good job, but it was nothing spectacular by any means. There were a handful of non-nominated performances this year that justifiably should have received a nomination in her place. Watts was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in 21 Grams (2003).