Oscars 2013: Best Actress Category Too Close to Call

Jennifer Lawrence is the frontrunner but critics say it's a tight race.

Feb. 22, 2013— -- While critics are already calling Daniel Day-Lewis the winner in the Best Actor category of Sunday's Oscars, the race for Best Actress is much tighter.

The category includes two-time Academy Award nominees Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence and Naomi Watts, 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva and 9-year-old Quvenzahne Wallis, who are both up for their first Oscar.

"It's such a slam dunk for Daniel," Thom Geier, a senior editor for Entertainment Weekly, told ABCNews.com. "There are a lot of other races that are a lot more competitive. I think best actress could be a surprise… So I think if there is any huge upsets in a major category, [best actress] is the one to watch."

With the exception of Watts, each of the actresses have already snagged a trophy this awards season. Chastain scored the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama as well as the Critics' Choice Award for Best Actress for her role in "Zero Dark Thirty."

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Lawrence, who is up for her role in "Silver Linings Playbook," beat Chastain and Watts to take home the Screen Actors Guild award. She also won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.

Riva beat out Chastain and Lawrence for the BAFTA award. She will turn 86 on Oscar Sunday and if she wins, she'll be the oldest Best Actress winner in history.

While neither Watts nor Wallis have scored any of the big awards this season, they both are still strong contenders, Scott Feinberg, an awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter told ABCNews.com.

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"I think that I've been sort of in the Oscar prognostication business for over a decade at this point and I don't remember a closer race than the best actress category," Feinberg said. "I think there's an argument that can be made for every one of the nominees."

One thing that could boost Watts, 44, in the category is the fact that she is the only nominee who has been acting for many years in the same country where most of the Academy members are based, Feinberg said, unlike Riva.

"She's very well liked in this town," he said. "The reality is that a large unquantifiable reason the people make the choices they do is not because of the performance, but because of the person, and she has a great argument."

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Riva could perhaps take the Oscar because of her win at the BAFTAs. The last two Best Actress upsets were by the winner of the BAFTA. In 2008, Marion Cotillard lost the SAG to Julie Christie but went on to win the BAFTA and then the Oscar. The same happened for Meryl Streep in 2011 when she lost the Critics' Choice and SAG to Viola Davis but then scored the upset after winning the BAFTA and then the Oscar.

Chastain, 35, has been hugely successful this awards season, but since her film, "Zero Dark Thirty," has been highly controversial, it could hurt her in her run for the Oscar, Feinberg said.

But if any of the nominees has an edge in the category, it appears to be 22-year-old Lawrence. "Silver Linings Playbook" was hugely popular this season, scoring eight Oscar nominations.

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"Lawrence is obviously fun and funny and youthful and beautiful and in her prime and just kind of absolutely dominates," Feinberg said. "When she comes on screen, she takes over, most notably with the scene with De Niro and puts everyone in their place. Not everyone can step on the screen and blow Robert de Niro right off of it."

De Niro, her fellow co-star Bradley Cooper and director David O. Russell have all been outspoken about their love of Lawrence in this role. She's kooky yet the audience can't help but love her.

Wallis makes her acting debut in "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and is the youngest actress ever to be nominated for Best Actress. She's four years younger than the previous record holder, Keisha Castle-Hughes. While Feinberg points out that she is impressive in her role, she's new to the business and therefore generally unknown to the voters.

"You know, I would probably say that it's Lawrence most likely and Riva based on BAFTA," Feinberg said about his top two contenders for the Oscar. "Although I think everyone has underestimated how well Watts is going to do. This is going to be a matter of just a few votes separating the nominees by just a few."