After a year full of exceptional films and stellar performances it all comes down to the Academy Awards. Several races this year have a clear frontrunner, but as the days leading up to the Oscars tick down, the leading contender in the Best Actress race is increasingly unclear.
With five talented actresses (Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, Naomi Watts, Emmanuelle Riva and Quvenzhane Wallis) competing for the prestigious award, the task of deciding which actress/performance will come out on top is extremely difficult. As is the case most years, the category has whittled its way down to two possible victors; unlike most years, the race looks about dead even between Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty and Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook.
Chastain owns the screen as the CIA operative with an unwavering determination to find and kill terrorist Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, Lawrence lights up the screen as a young widow struggling to fight her own personal demons and find the silver lining in her life. Since the roles are so different from each other it makes it hard to compare them to one another, but not impossible.
In Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain's character, Maya, buries her emotions down deep and dedicates her entire life to the manhunt for Osama bin Laden. Few times in the film does the audience really see who Maya is and what her emotions are. The scenes when she finally lets her emotions seep out are the best in the film, because they provides the audience with someone we can relate to and root for. Understandably, Chastain's character was supposed to be stoic and withdrawn, and the actress did a fantastic job conveying that to the audience; her emotional scenes, however, were definitely Chastain's strongest. While Chastain's character had very little emotion, her strength and perseverance bring a strong presence to the screen for the majority of the film.
Lawrence's Tiffany is a completely different role: She is very emotional, but has extreme depth as well. Lawrence portrays Tiffany and her struggles in a way that does not exploit mental illness, but instead proves to audiences that mental illness does not define one's life. Lawrence takes her character to a very deep and emotional place, allowing audiences to see her vulnerability and her strength within her vulnerability (Tiffany is a character that not only knows what her vulnerability is but accepts it). Lawrence also brings much needed laughs to the film on multiple occasions.
Though the race between Chastain and Lawrence is still too close to call, the Screen Actor Guild Awards on Jan. 27 should shed some light onto whom the real frontrunner is. As for right now, I see Jennifer Lawrence walking away with the statue Feb. 24, due to the more emotional and less methodical role she played.