Of the four acting categories, this is definitely the one that feels like it's in the most flux. The four televised precursor awards having been split between two actresses; one who has made a fresh splash on the scene with a staggering dramatic performance accompanied by charming speeches on the red carpet and at the award podium, and another coming off a recent Oscar win and reveling in a flashy comedic turn. Let's take a look at them (oh, and the other three) after the cut.
Lupita Nyong'o was a relative unknown before this year, so Academy members who find the thrill of "discovery" appealing may feel inclined to throw their vote her way. But of course, so will voters who strive to judge the performances on their own terms, for hers is an amazing one. She's absolutely gut-wrenching in 12 Years a Slave, and it brought her well-earned kudos from the Screen Actors Guild and Broadcast Film Critics Association, along with several regional critics groups. She should be a lock, but for a lurking scene-stealer in a much beloved Best Picture nominee...
Ah yes, Jennifer Lawrence, Hollywood's unquestionable It Girl. And as her latest Hunger Games blockbuster so emphatically declares, she is indeed on fire. At just 22 years of age, she won last year's Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, and now she's back with another David O. Russell film looking to become the youngest performer to win two Academy Awards. It seems unreal to think that the Academy will want to give her so much so soon, but it also seems unreal to think of American Hustle going home empty-handed. Since it's in danger of losing Screenplay and Costumes, the only other category it could win is here, and popularity alone may make J-Law a back-to-back winner. Her BAFTA upset could be the key to a last minute surge.
I suppose that makes June Squibb the default bronze medalist for her dirty old lady shtick in Nebraska. It's the sort of light comic role with just the right touches of pathos and sincere emotion that the actors branch loves to nominate. However, Nebraska just hasn't caught on enough to win any of its six nominations, and the smallness of Squibb's performance doesn't stand much of a chance against the louder work of her fellow nominees.
Julia Roberts particularly comes to mind when I think of louder work. Everyone in August: Osage County (save for Chris Cooper) seemed to be reaching for the rafters, Roberts being no exception. That's not to say that it isn't an entertaining movie-star performance -- a lead performance at that. She confidently holds the camera as only an experienced A-lister can, and she gets some wonderful lines to deliver (including one fishy bit of dialogue that has become one of the awards season's most quoted memes). But there's no way she's in it to win it this year. Where's the support for the film? The precursors? Not happening.
Will win: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Runner-up: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Should win: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Should've been nominated: Scarlett Johansson, Her