For the most part of this year's Oscar race this category seemed like a battle to the death between rising stars Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence is a very young superstar, headlining the Hunger Games franchise and then starring in indie hit Silver Linings Playbook. Chastain came into the spotlight after she appeared in about 43 movies last year and emerged as a new acting talent, she starred in Broadway's The Heiress and now is nominated for Zero Dark Thirty.
They both won Golden Globes. Then, the conversation about the torture controversy surrounding Zero Dark Thirty grew louder and louder to the point where a Chastain win seemed less likely every minute (no matter how amazing she is in the film). Lawrence, meanwhile, surely benefited from having Oscar campaigning genius Harvey Weinstein at her side (not to imply that she isn't widely loved by everyone everywhere). She won the SAG award and seemed in the lead.
And then came Emmanuelle Riva. The 85-year-old actress, who in Michael Haneke's Amour, gives one of the year's most harrowing performances as a woman whose health slowly deteriorates when she falls victim of a stroke. Amour surprised with five nominations on Oscar morning, including Best Picture, which was more than anyone expected and a signifier that people are watching the movie. Oscar has a long history of awarding young actresses over more veterans (Marion Cotillard beat Julie Christie, Halle Berry beat Sissy Spacek), but if it's really so, and people are watching Haneke's film, then I can't see them voting for someone other than Riva. She already showed her first sign of strength by winning the BAFTA (british version of the Oscar) this weekend. I think Oscar is next.
Will Win: Emmanuelle Riva
Should Win: Emmanuelle Riva