Some background for this category: the most awarded actress in Oscar history remains Katherine Hepburn with four wins. The most nominated actress is, unsurprisingly, Meryl Streep, whose received 14 nominations over the course of her career.
- Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty
- Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
- Emmanuelle Riva - Amour
- Quvenzhané Wallis - Beasts of Southern Wild
- Naomi Watts - The Impossible
Jennifer Lawrence broke onto screens in a big way with her Oscar-nominated performance in Winter's Bone, which was absolutely the best female performance of its year. This year she's not only managed to draw critical acclaim for Silver Linings Playbook she's also become a major commercial star this year through The Hunger Games. Lawrence has, to date, won 13 regional awards for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook.
Emmanuelle Riva has gained rave reviews for Amour, but the question is whether the American Academy will give the award to a French actress in an Austrian film. Foreign actors aren't unknown to win Oscars: Roberto Benigni and Marion Cottilard are two obvious winners in the past. It's also a chance for the Academy to award an actress with a long, rich history in world cinema. She starred in Hiroshima Mon Amour, for example. Academy voters may wish to reward her for that.
Quvenzhané Wallis, of course, is only nine years old. Beasts of the Southern Wild was her first performance, and while it's been widely acknowledged as a great one it's hard to see the Academy giving the Best Actress award to her at such a young age. Sure, Anna Paquin was about the same age when she won for The Piano, but that was for Best Supporting Actress.
Naomi Watts was nominated for 21 Grams a few years back. Here she plays a mother desperately trying to reunite with her family in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. I'm not feeling any heat on this one. Unlike Lawrence or Chastain she's only received one smaller award for her performance here. This is not Watts' year.
My pick: I think it's down to Jennifer Lawrence and Emmanuelle Riva, and something tells me it's Riva who is going to ultimately win.