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Jennifer Lawrence

Best Leading Actress

This category features both its youngest nominee ever—Quvenzhané Wallis, 9, for “Beasts of the Southern Wild”—and its oldest—Emmanuelle Riva, 85, for “Amour.” But different generations aside, the category is a smorgasbord of talents from some of 2012’s most interesting films.

It certainly seems a closer field than Best Actor, where critics have chalked up Daniel Day-Lewis since the first photos of him wearing Lincoln’s iconic beard appeared. Wallis’s turn as Hushpuppy was good, as was Naomi Watts’s bravely committed performance in “The Impossible,” but it seemed like both of them were ultimately subservient to the worlds the directors constructed—they didn’t command their respective films. Equally, while it was much praised, Jessica Chastain’s performance in “Zero Dark Thirty” lacked inner life—there was little sense of her character as a human being. Perhaps that helped the film overall, but it does her no favors here.

Between Riva’s performance and Jennifer Lawrence’s wonderful work in “Silver Linings Playbook” then, I would plump for the latter. Although Riva was extraordinarily courageous, and the luminous beauty of her “Hiroshima Mon Amour” days seems remarkably undimmed, Lawrence gave us a deeply complex creation by turns melancholy, defiant, and bursting unsentimentally with life. She deserves to win this prize. Also deserving of a mention is Marion Cotillard, arguably just as good, and shockingly passed over for the magisterial “Rust and Bone.”

—Staff writer Caleb J.T. Thompson can be reached at calebthompson@college.harvard.edu.

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