OSCARS: Jennifer Lawrence And Jessica Chastain Stir Things Up In Tight Best Actress Race, But Does It Matter?

The tight Oscar race for Best Actress between the presumed co-frontrunners, Silver Linings Playbook’s Jennifer Lawrence and Zero Dark Thirty’s Jessica Chastain, took a few twists and turns this weekend. But will any of it affect the outcome one way or another? Momentum is a fickle thing — you can win it or lose it  in an instant.

Related: Jennifer Lawrence Monologue On ‘SNL’

Both young stars are coming off a stellar week where they won Golden Globe and Critics Choice Movie Awards for their performances. And now, just 2 1/2 weeks before Oscar voting begins and smack in the middle of SAG balloting, Chastain pulled off the neat trick of starring in the No. 1 and No. 2 films at the box office (#1 Mama and #2 Zero Dark Thirty). Before Mama opened, some pundits observed that starring in a standard horror film in the midst of Oscar crunch time could hurt Chastain the same way Norbit’s Oscar-time release was perceived to hurt Eddie Murphy when he lost for Dreamgirls. But in fact Mama received generally good reviews (62% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes) and way overperformed at the box office, helping to make the emerging Chastain an even bigger star. And the fact that she simultaneously continues in her Broadway run in The Heiress (a film based on the play won Olivia DeHavilland an Oscar) also helps as voters love actors who move between theatre and movies with ease.

Related: Golden Globes Movies: Does Winning Really Affect Oscar Chances?

Lawrence, on the other hand took a different tact, jokingly targeting her Oscar competitors including Chastain in her monologue as host of the first new Saturday Night Live in a month. Her film also finally hit wide release on more than 2500 screens after spending the last two months in more limited release as The Weinstein Company changed its original plan to go wide over Thanksgiving. A smart move in retrospect, both for box office health and the kind of shrewd Oscar strategy for which the company that has won the last two Best Picture Oscars is known. It soared to No. 3 this weekend, just behind the double dose of Chastain, and clearly validated the Weinstein plan of holding it back and gambling that Oscar nominations would give it a boost even after all that time. With 8 key nominations including all four acting categories for the first time in 31 years, the move has worked and the film seems poised to be on its way to a potential $100 million gross (It’s up to $55 million right now, the same number Zero Dark Thirty has amassed in half the time).

But the decision to put Lawrence on SNL as host right in the thick of the race seems more problematic in hindsight, judging by some of the growing Internet chatter about her appearance — particularly a monologue where she “trash talked” about her Best Actress competition. Obviously it was written for her, was all meant as a joke and done purely for laughs, but sometimes there is a delicate balance about anything you say when there are bigger things at stake, whether it is a Presidential race or an Oscar race. Humor can be mistaken for arrogance, especially taken out of context.

Related: AFI Awards: Hollywood Turns Out For A Moment Of Sanity During Oscar Season Madness

Beginning by trying to clarify her Golden Globe acceptance speech where she said “I beat Meryl” (Streep, who was nominated in the same category for Hope Springs), she explained during her opening monologue that she was referencing a quote from The First Wives Club. “I would never trash talk any of my fellow nominees at the Golden Globes — but the Oscars are a different story” she said. That launched into a comic insult routine that would make Don Rickles proud —  if only she had his stand-up comic reputation and style of delivery. “Ladies I love you all, but you are about to get served. Well well well, look who it is. Jessica Chastain. More like ‘Jessica Chas-ain’t-winning-no-Oscar-on-my-watch”! Then she took on The Impossible’s Naomi Watts, saying winning for her would be “impossible”, and paraphrased a Diff’rent Strokes catch-phrase (“Whachu talking about, Wallis?”) to size up 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis’ chances. Lawrence ended by saying this about Amour’s Emmaneulle Riva: “An 85-year-old French lady? I think I can take you!” In trademark Rickles fashion, she softened each blow by praising after skewering (for Watts: “you are amazing in everything you do”; for Wallis: “You are a revelation”). Clearly this was just a comic bit handed to her by SNL writers, but how it will ultimately play for older Academy voters as it goes viral is anyone’s guess — particularly the line about Riva, which was the only one she delivered without a word of praise afterward. Lawrence is a hell of an actress and very genuine in person, but she’s not Rickles. The SNL team probably didn’t do her any favors with this bit.

Weinstein has used SNL effectively in the past, such as last year when eventual Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin made a well-received surprise appearance doing a song-and-dance takeoff on his role in The Artist as Oscar voting was taking place. And Weinstein was also able to use Lawrence’s appearance to run two extended TV ads for Silver Linings Playbook in the first commercial block following the monologue that emphasized the brilliance of the movie and Lawrence’s work, which may have blunted any damage caused by comically skewering her competition.

Related: ENTV: Pete Hammond On Oscar Nominations – And Snubs

Another Oscar frontrunner who has used SNL to show comic chops this season is Anne Hathaway, but her November appearance wasn’t timed to key voting periods and she didn’t use it to rip her rivals. However, Hathaway did raise some eyebrows with her Golden Globe acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress when she singled out chief rival Sally Field, praising her as a mentor but pointedly reminding that Field started out as The Flying Nun before going on to play Norma Rae and Mary Todd Lincoln. This week, Jimmy Kimmel showed the clip on his show and surmised that Field, though smiling in the audience, probably wasn’t too pleased.

Of course, when Bill Murray was a regular on SNL he used the platform to annually mock the Oscars and all the nominees. Then years later he found himself a front-running Best Actor nominee for Lost In Translation but lost to Sean Penn. It wasn’t lost on him that sometimes you can pay for obvious jokes when we spoke in Toronto earlier this season, and I asked if he thought those SNL bits might have somehow hurt his chances. “Yeah, I did mock the Academy and all that stuff and then it figures that when the Academy gets their chance to vote for me they go, ‘that little bastard’!”

Will any of this matter in the end? Probably not. Hopefully this year the Academy just sticks to business and votes for the performance in the movie and not anywhere else.

  1. I know it was written for her but I couldn’t help cringe a bit at her monologue. Seemed a bit over the top given the nature of politics in the Oscar race. Personally didn’t bother me but couldn’t help but wonder how other (older) voters would take it. That’s if they were able to stay up late enough to even watch it.

    1. It was clearly a joke because she complimented each actress after the trash talking. It should be all about the performances and that said, Naomi Watts or Emmanuelle Riva will take the gold statue.

    2. Her acting is substandard at best; a grinning void. How she can even be compared to Streep or Chastain is a mystery.

  2. I wish voters would consider the breadth of Sally Field’s performance in LINCOLN. The beginning, middle and end of it. She’s great in a handful of scenes. Not just in one. I don’t think Hathaway should be such a lock. Won’t she eventually sing, dance and win playing Judy Garland?

    1. I don’t understand the big fuss about Sally Field’s performance. I found it one-note and cringe worthy ( trying too hard ) , plus she never blended in with the cast. Sadly, it seemed like she was acting in a completely different movie. Anne Hathaway did so much with very little screen time, and she still owned Les Miserables.

      1. Honestly, by the time Les Mis ended, I almost forgot Hathaway was even in it. I would if she didn’t appear at the end again. I feel bad for the rest of the cast, there were way better performances and it’s unfair she’s getting all the buzz.

      2. Sally Field was great in Lincoln, encompassing deep physiologically and emotional point throughout the film. Anne Hathaway was one note from the opening shot. Very overwrought – fault of the director. Field blended beautifully with the cast , which is why she was cast in the role after auditions. Field won many critics’ associations awards, not Hathaway (who I like in films).

  3. Sean Penn has won 2 Oscars and he’s mocked the Academy/Hollywood establishment much more vocally. I doubt what Bill Murray did 20 years ago made much difference to his Oscar chances.

    1. The comment she made during her speech wasn’t about Meryl Streep. It was a quote from First Wives Club.

      1. @Teejay A reference that was lost on everyone. Either way, Lawrence came off as arrogant. The Oscars are a popularity contest. Lawrence is losing that popularity. I would say that Chastain is the frontrunner and Mama will actually help her chances. Mama has gotten good reviews, is executive produced by Guillermo del Toro, and is doing well at the box office. Naomi Watts could be the surprise win for her amazing career.

      2. It may have been a quote from First Wives Club but it still referenced Streep who was one of the nominees in that category so it was about Streep. If Streep wasn’t nominated, she (or whoever wrote her speech) wouldn’t have referenced it.

      3. How many people got that reference, though? I mean, it’s “The First Wives Club,” not a quotable like “Annie Hall.”

      4. Yes it was. The line in First Wives Club is about beating Meryl Streep at the Oscars. So no matter how you look at it, this was about Streep. If Meryl hadn’t been nominated, Jennifer wouldn’t have said this, ergo this was about Meryl Streep.

      5. Right, and, of course, everybody watching the Globes instantly said, Ahh, she’s quoting that masterpiece of world cinema, the indelible First Wives Club from two decades ago. She’s a terrific actress, but she’s now done two low class things.

  4. Maybe the writers at SNL are Team Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence fell right into their trap. Guess Lawrence should have nixed it but them the SNL team will leak to the press that Lawrence is a diva who wouldn’t play along. Can’t win for losing. If Chastain wins because voters hated Lawrence’s SNL jokes then it shouldn’t really be named a Best Actress award. Is there this amount of bitchy over analysis of the Best Actor race I wonder or is it limited only to the ladies.

  5. Jennifer was joking at the Golden Globes,I doubt Meryl Streep was upset one bit. It was funny. I find it hard to believe anyone would vote against her for that.

  6. If Oscar voters actually watched their DVD screeners there would be no contest here. Emmanuelle Riva would have won in a cakewalk. She’s beyond her competition. To lose to performances like hers would be an honor. But sadly 85 year old foreign actress has no chance against two American “babes”. Oscar voters do not vote with their fingers they vote with their… you know, I don’t have to say that.

    1. I was thinking the same thing, Jinjeon. All this talk of Lawrence and Chastain when Riva is far and away the best actress here.

    2. I agree that Riva gave a far superior performance to everyone else, and the fact that she can’t campaign, her age, and that it is a French film is what will prevent her from winning. Chastain, though, gave an incredible, steely performance. I find it ironic that people are worrying that Lawrence will be hurt by how the academy sees her outside of the performance, because that argument could be reversed and it could be said one of the reasons she is a front-runner is because of her personality, Harvey, and the feel-good nature of the film. She is very talented, but at least to me it those outside influences that have pushed her as a front-runner ahead of everybody but Chastain and propelled her to an Oscar nom over Maggie Smith for Quartet, Rachel Weisz, Helen Mirren, Marion Cotillard, Emaytazy Corienaldi, and a few others.

    3. Lawrence blows Riva off the screen. In her prime Riva could not do what Lawrence does. Riva is just the latest hipster pick. It’s the anybody but Lawrence campaign.

  7. CRITICS CHOICE – Jessica Chastain
    GOLDEN GLOBE (Drama) – Jessica Chastain
    GOLDEN GLOBE (Comedy) – Jennifer Lawrence
    SAG – Naomi Watts (alt. Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain)
    BAFTA – Emmanuelle Riva (alt. Jessica Chastain)
    OSCAR – Emmanuelle Riva (alt. the SAG winner)

    Bottom line : SAG loved Silver Linings Playbook, so Lawrence has an excellent shot there, but if Watts’s great and high profile industry support secures her the award OR they go with Chastain despite not appreciating her film that much (no Ensemble nod), I don’t think Lawrence could win the Oscar, because BAFTA probably won’t go for her, either, they weren’t really into her film (no BP/BD), meanwhile they WERE into Amour and Zero Dark Thirty, and they also tend to go with the strongest European contender, who is Emmanuelle Riva this year. Long story short, since it rarely happens someone without either the SAG or BAFTA, takes the Oscar, and it’s highly unlikely she could win the BAFTA, Lawrence NEEDS to win the SAG next week to stay in the top2.

      1. Jennifer won two joke awards–comedy and action. When up against Chastain for the overall best actress award, she lost.

  8. This is why I hate the Oscars. It should be about the performance and the performance alone, not what someone says on a talk show or an acceptance speech. But, it’s seemingly never about the performance anymore, but the publicity you can drum up after you’re nominated. Which is why someone like Riva will never win.

    1. Uh, hello, the entire thing is a sham.

      The Oscars is a popularity contest presided over by agents/managers and producers. Who can throw the best parties and kiss-ass to enough academy voters. And by the way, the voters should be comprised only of former Oscar Winners. Instead, anyone famous enough or with enough connections can apply for membership — including the same agents, managers, producers who have vested interests in the outcomes.

      To the initial point of these comments: I think that J-Law may have screwed herself out of an Oscar. Her management team should never have allowed her to take part in that skit. And even more damning, the whole episode sucked.

      1. the writing at snl is terrible. her bit about the other oscar nominees was silly and free of content. she said NOTHING specific about her fellow nominees, just juvenile plays on words. written by idiots over 25 for idiots under 25.

  9. Lawrence will win the SAG award since her movie was sent out as a DVD screener to SAG voters while Chastain’s movie was not. Chastain will however win the Oscar since her movie is more ‘serious’ and the older Academy members love serious. That, plus the fact that Lawrence is a lot younger and there’s a sense that her time will come.

    1. What do you think about Naomi Watts for the SAG ? Her high-profile peers (Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Angelina Jolie, Edward Norton, Reese Witherspoon etc.) are raving about her performance, and after all, THEY are the ones who vote for this award, and also who probably influence other SAG-voters the most, don’t you think ? Anyway, it’s just a theory, I am fully aware that Lawrence is the frontrunner for SAG, they REALLY loved her film, but I still have a hunch that Watts might surprise.

      1. phantom, most of the names you mentioned, have worked with Naomi Watts in past. So, their opinions are very biased. I really believe Jennifer Lawrence & Jessica Chastain will cancel each other out, so Naomi or Emmaneulle Riva will win the Oscar.

    2. I totally agree. Sending DVD screeners to members is the only way to go. The downloading to itunes was, is and will continue to be a pain in the ass. obviously, the theatre is the best, but it’s not always possible or probable given the short window to view the films. 2-3 weeks for SAG members. Spend the money and send DVDs and you’ll get votes.

  10. Jennifer Lawrence is a charmer. I love her quirky sense of humor and her unpretentious approach to doing interviews. Unfortunately, Team J-Law did not do her any favors by committing her to host SNL. It’s been quite a long time since the SNL writers were consistently funny. And they seem absolutely clueless as to what to do with a wonderful, game talent like Lawrence.

  11. The more I see Jennifer Lawrence, the more I can’t stand this girl. She’s extremely arrogant and thinks she’s the best thing since sliced bread. She was AWFUL on SNL. I don’t find her pretty, witty, or the least bit humble. I think she needs to take some pointers from seasoned actresses and learn how to be mature and gracious.

    1. She was fine. The writing on SNL has been tanking for a while. The skits are generally poor. You just don’t watch enough. Never beyond mildly amusing. And do you mean the seasoned actresses who say nothing and no one cares about?

      1. I mean the seasoned actresses who have class and don’t go around disrespecting and trashing their peers, all under the guise of it just being a silly joke. A seasoned actress like Riva, whose performance puts Jennifer’s to shame, probably wouldn’t arrogantly spout off stupid “jokes” like Lawrence has been. As to you telling me that I don’t watch SNL enough, how in the world would you know that? I think between the media kissing this girls butt and Harvey buying her all of these awards, she thinks she’s all that and sadly it shows. A little humility would go a long way for her.

        1. “She’s extremely arrogant and thinks she’s the best thing since sliced bread. she thinks she’s all that and sadly it shows. A little humility would go a long way for her.” … Boy are you dense. She’s the complete opposite of that. You’ve obviously never seen any interviews with her because she’s as authentic, humble, and self-deprecating as they come.
          Eh you’re probably too feeble-minded to understand a dry sense of humor. Im sure when she goes on Letterman and says she’s “well rounded and practically perfect” your moronic mind cant perceive the sarcasm glaring in the delivery.

      1. Concurr! It should be Riva! Or the Academy will, with its continuing age-identity crisis, stoop low, as it already has with Seth McFarlane. That said, and what people keep forgetting on this thread, is how old the Academy members actually are–sometimes that means they vote way too conservatively. Here, the, er, “conservative” vote for Riva would be most welcome.

  12. Lawrence’s role in SLP has more ups and downs, big emotional scenes, lots of humor and pathos and she knocks it out of the park. She is the best thing in the movie. And that’s saying a lot for all the riches in that film.

    Chastain’s role in ZDT is relentless and direct. And she plays it with a quiet authority that grows throughout the film and a ferociousness that’s intense and subtle. She’s the best thing in this movie, she owns it.

    But I think as films SLP is much more of a cute puppy dog that Oscar voters love and I though I think Lincoln will win best picture (if Argo doesn’t sneak in…and should) I think SLP will take multiple awards including best actress for Lawrence, which would be deserved.

  13. How funny that Deadline takes the Oscars so seriously. “But does it matter?” No it doesn’t matter, it’s just the Oscars.

  14. Not sure I want to hear this monologue, reading it doesn’t sound funny, and to pronounce a wannabeironicbutisnt tirade doesn’t seem a brilliant move. SNL writers a Jennifer lawrence need a lot of rest.

    Chastain and Riva deserve much more than her to win.

  15. For her to diss her competitors, especially Emanuelle Riva, was aerrogant and ignorant. Smarmy is the word for her.

    1. You do understand the concept of SNL? And very mild even in that context. I actually don’t think Lawrence liked the monologue they wrote for her judging by her expression. No reason to put a guest on the show in an uncomfortable position. And as someone said above, you have two choices: (1) deliver the lines that are written or (2) get branded a diva in the press. The problem is that the SNL writers not very good anymore.

    2. It’s a skit not written by the guest you moron.

      On the other hand, I can’t figure out why her people would think this was a good idea – given the amount of idiocy that is out there of course (otherwise, it’d just end up being a silly skit, not a ridiculous discussion topic)

  16. How can anyone trash Anne Hathaway’s lovely gesture to Sally Field ? That was one of the most classy moments of the Golden Globes. Sally is the elder of the group of nominees, she deserves the utmost respect, and Anne gave it to her.

    1. It seemed arrogant in that Hathaway was making a parallel between Sally Field’s having to overcome typecasting for two very iconic television roles (to say nothing of breaking out of television and into major motion pictures) and Hathaway’s breakout part in “The Princess Diaries.” I mean, um, no. I never sat around and wondered if Anne could bust through our view of her as “Princess Whateverhernameis.” She was doing just fine with “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Rachel Getting Married” and really not fighting to overcome any industry biases against her. If anything, she is creating a perception of a deluded narcissist that is going to be hard to shake after awards season, should her acceptance performances continue along these lines.

      Hathaway is a bit too much in her head.

  17. “Humor can be mistaken for arrogance, especially taken out of context.”

    If you take an SNL appearance ‘out of context’ and see arrogance then you are too stupid to be an Oscar voter. More than the voting procedure, they need to revamp the criteria to be a voter in the first place. Get rid of the people whose kids/grandkids make the picks, or who can’t be bothered to leave the house and see the movies in the theatre. If it’s too much of a bother, or it’s beneath you, just resign.

  18. Y’know, people in the industry DO realize when someone is rattling off jokes that were written for him/her. Anyone who thinks Lawrence’ monologue is somehow going to hurt her chances is kidding themselves. She’s more likely to lose because 1) Chastain is ZDT’s only real chance at winning something, while SLP will get a sentiment Oscar for DeNiro, and 2) Lawrence is 22 and has plenty of time to win.

  19. The hell with the Oscar race. It’s just glorified politicking. And especially to hell with the “older Academy members”, whose menacing presence is cited at all times during assessments of the race. Not sure if they exist, but they are apparently stupid, humorless, petulant and self-important. I’m sick of these actors having to kiss everyone’s asses and having to meticulously weigh every syllable so that it doesn’t offend the aforementioned Academy snobs. No award is worth that.
    I also notice that Riva is getting a late internet push even though Lawrence delivered a much more skilled performance. You can call it anybody but the 22 year old. First Chastain, then Watts, now Riva. By performance Lawrence takes it, but since when does that happen. The role has to be right. The actor has to pay their dues. The actor has to kiss the industry’s ass. And the industry awards keep fading from cultural relevance.

    1. Lawrence has Harvey Weinstein backing her. The guy who made Oscar campaigning what it is today. Riva has done ZERO campaigning. Lawrence is front and center. She’s done more campaigning than any of her fellow nominees combined so if any of the actresses are doing ‘glorified politicking’, it would be Lawrence (and Weinstein).

  20. Watch for Emmanuelle Riva to steal it. The Academy LOVES her film and loves her in it. Watch for the upset and remember you rad it here first.

    1. That’s been going on for a while. People keep trying to find someone other than Jennifer to give it to because of the usual stupid intangibles. You are late to the game.

  21. chastain is a truly great actress, the big difference between the two films however is Lawrence had an actual character to play… this zero dark performance has been far too overhyped. least challenging of any chastain has done… aside from how much material sucked… maybe that’s worth something, but by that standard hanks should’ve won for delivering that nonsense in Angels and Demons then.

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