Unlike Anne Hathaway, who's probably even sidestepping sidewalk cracks lest she break some old Academy member's back, and perhaps jeopardize her inevitable Fantine-quoting speech ("Life hasn't killed the dream I dreamed!"), Jennifer Lawrence is taking a page from Mo'Nique's book and playing the campaign game by her own rules. With Hollywood's hottest new franchise already cranking up her star wattage, the on-fire frontrunner has, without denying her desire for victory or tainting her "It Girl" image, shown a refreshing, and even alarming, awards-season irreverence, such as in that little SNL intro bit, or her recent howler of an interview with EW. The lack of formality may prove off-putting to some, who prefer, say, an Oscar angel like Natalie Portman, but odds are Lawrence still has this win in the bag, as further evidenced by her precursor record and the sheer influence of Silver Linings Playbook producer Harvey Weinstein.
If we traveled just a few weeks back in time, the Best Actress race would still look like a near-neck-in-neck matchup between Lawrence and Jessica Chastain, a fan magnet whose popularity is soaring right along with her opponent's, and whose role in Zero Dark Thirty is the girl-power-y type that's brought gold to everyone from Sally Field to Julia Roberts. What's more, at 35, Chastain is right at the average age of a Best Actress winner, and who wouldn't want to see the infectious redhead beaming at the podium? Alas, Kathryn Bigelow's political pot-stirrer looks doomed to fall behind in yet another category, its backlash trumping the considerable goodwill Chastain's garnered during her short time on the A list. Taking her place as the spoiler is oldest-ever nominated leading lady Emanuelle Riva, an 86-year-old French treasure who's proven a major facet of the AMPAS's love for Amour. After collecting a handsome handful of critics' awards in the fall, Riva pulled off a surprise win at the BAFTAs, drawing gasps and dumbstruck looks from folks like David O. Russell, and hinting that Lawrence may not be so sure a sure thing. Riva also has kismet in her corner, celebrating a birthday on the date of the Oscar telecast, and baiting voters that much more to reward the silver fox. Still, we're calling this thing for Lawrence, who's prepped and ready to trample Naomi Watts and Quvenzhané Wallis, scurry past Chastain, and let Riva eat just a little bit of her dust.
Will win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Could win: Emanuelle Riva, Amour
Should win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook