Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
A powerhouse performance as the CIA agent leading the hunt for Osama bin Laden. She owns this movie from the moment she first appears on the screen. The movie got caught up in a lot of talk about torture, politics, and war. But there is one -- and only one -- star in the film, and it is Chastain.
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Her showing as Tiffany is at first a jolt to the system, and then you can’t take your eyes off of her. The range of emotions she shows in the film is gripping, frustrating, frightening, a little loopy, and a bit sad all at once. It is a true career-changing performance from the "Hunger Games" star.
Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour"
The most-understated and heart-wrenching performance of the lot, 85-year old Riva will melt your heart in her role as Anne. Her eyes tell the story for a lot of the film’s most gripping moments. This is a sad, sad downer of a film, and it’s lack of wide release will leave her out of the loop come Oscar night.
Quvenzhane Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
At just 9 years old, Wallis is the youngest nominee in history. Even more impressive, she was just 6-1/2 years old when the movie was made. She is a joy to watch from the very start. This movie lacks in exposure, even though you will see a lot of Wallis in the coming weeks. The nomination is her award.
Naomi Watts, "The Impossible"
A good enough showing from Watts, but it suffers from at least one thing: all people know is that this is "the tsunami movie." A solid performance, but it almost felt like voters ran out of good ideas for nominees, and Watts got the fifth spot.
SHOULD WIN: Jennifer Lawrence. The range of emotions she shows in this movie is off the charts. I could spend another paragraph listing the adjectives. Just know that she has quickly grown into an actress that belongs with the very best young stars on the big screen.
WILL WIN: Jessica Chastain. There is a ton of momentum behind this movie, largely due to the news coverage is has gotten. Chastain is good, without question. She is in nearly every scene of the film, and carries it well. I enjoyed Lawrence’s showing more, but Chastain is certainly deserving of the Oscar.