Best-actress virtual roundtable: Jennifer Lawrence leads , potential for Emmanuelle Riva upset

Photo: Summit/Weinstein/Columbia/Fox Searchlight/Sony Pictures Classics

Four days before the Oscars, and what was once a two-woman best-actress race between Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook") and Jessica Chastain ("Zero Dark Thirty") has had a major hiccup. Lawrence now leads the pack. Chastain has tumbled. And, surprise, "Amour" octogenarian Emmanuelle Riva could take the Oscar in a last-minute upset. Meanwhile, Naomi Watts ("The Impossible") and Quvenzhané Wallis ("The Beasts of the Southern Wild") don't stand a chance. Here's the dish from our virtual roundtable:

Peter Knegt (Indiewire): Riva -- who will turn 86 years old on Oscar night -- represents a rare case where she's both a sentimental choice and the most deserving winner. If voters actually see "Amour," Riva could very well take that Oscar from Lawrence (Chastain is third in my book at this point). The BAFTA win for Riva certainly makes that a stronger possibility.

Carla Stockton (freelance writer): I personally loved Chastain's work in "Zero Dark Thirty," but the character lacks depth, and as a result the portrayal lacked dimension. I am with Peter Knegt: She's third. If I were to exercise my own bias here, I'd probably vote for Jennifer Lawrence, whom I've favored to win since "Winter's Bone." She brings uncanny depth to this character without any of the overacting antics of older, wiser actors whose names shall remain undisclosed but who beat her the last time.

However, from an artistically objective point of view, I know that Emmanuelle Riva should probably win. She was amazing, honest, and fearless in all her choices while being death-defyingly committed to her character. I have never been sure why Watts was nominated; I liked her in "The Impossible," but just because she suffers well and looks longingly with distinction; her character seemed cardboardy flat to me.

I have not yet seen "Beasts," but I have a problem awarding an untrained newcomer for falling into a role and being a natural for it. Most of the children who preceded adorable little Ms. Wallis in winning such awards had been working on their craft for some time already and were not accidental winners. Oscar gold is a huge weight to put on a kid's shoulders (remember what happened to Tatum?) and should at least be conferred on a child who already understands the nature of the work ahead.

Jordan Bayne (writer, director, producer): I am a Jessica Chastain devotee, loving all of her work. However, I would agree with the others; I think she is running at third. I love JLaw , did not love "Silver Linings Playbook." But I agree with Carla, she is grounded and carries a wisdom well beyond her years, which makes watching her compelling. My pick -- Riva -- would be both well-deserved and a glorious win.

Trey Speegle (formerly of "Us Weekly," now an independent artist): It sounds weird to say, but my speculations on performances aside ... my picks are for who will win, not who should win. Naomi Watts doesn't have a snowball's chance. I think having the oldest and the youngest nominees in 9-year-old Wallis and 86-year-old Riva kinda cancel each other out, so I don't think the sentimental vote is happening. That leaves Lawrence and Chastain. Both actresses and their nominated films have heat going into the final stretch, but I'd give the edge to Lawrence, too. Why? The most trusted of all reasons: a hunch.

Carla Stockton: Clever, Trey. I agree with your prediction. Unless Riva gets the cute old sympathy award, the Weinstein Company behind "Silver Linings Playbook" certainly ain't letting any grass grow on the path, and Lawrence was really, really good. Maybe she can say (in Tiffany character mode) "You like me? Yeah?"

Tariq A. Khan (Fox News) Sorry to disagree with anyone, but I firmly believe that Riva will win. They will just not give the lead Oscar to 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence for what they see as being a relatively lightweight role. Riva's part was far more challenging, and voters realize that. I have been following the Oscars for 35 years and will be absolutely shocked if Lawrence beats Riva.

Trey Speegle: Well, I should have followed my own "Peter O'Toole Bookie Rule" and checked the Las Vegas odds earlier. Today, the odds on bevictor.com for best actress are: Jennifer Lawrence 8/15, Jessica Chastain 3/1, Emmanuelle Riva 5/2, Naomi Watts, 33/1, Quvenzhané Wallis 50/1.

Nathaniel Rogers (The Film Experience): Unlike Tariq, I'll be more shocked if they do give it to Riva. I'd mark her as a strong second (I think Chastain is much further back than people realize, given the enigmatic nature of the role and the polarized reception), but I don't think it's in Oscar's character to ignore the ascendant Hollywood princess (Lawrence) in favor of a senior foreign female (Riva).

The only foreign language performances that win in the female categories seem to be from women who were international sex symbols in the prime of their beauty/fame (Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren, or Penelope Cruz). As wonderful as Riva's performance is -- I'd vote for her without hesitation in this lineup -- I just think Lawrence has too much going for her in terms of a hugely successful year plus Oscar's fixation on younger women. The only precedent I can see for Lawrence losing is something like Jessica Tandy beating Michelle Pfeiffer in '89, but Tandy was in a best-picture winner that was also a $100 million hit.

Jordan Bayne: Tariq, how I wish we lived in your world of win by merit, but I feel the same as Nathaniel: Hollywood loves crowning their "it" girl of the moment.
Carla Stockton: The track record bears you up, Jordan. Some pretty lame performances, even by some heavy hitters, in some not-so-deep films. Goldie Hawn won for "Cactus Flower," a far less nuanced role than Tiffany. Josephine Hull (who?) in "Harvey": not too deep. Helen Hayes for "Airport"? Maggie Smith for, of all roles, "California Suite "?

Thelma Adams: I'm backing Lawrence for the win, and I'm marking my ballot. Why? Gut. Research. History. Odds. It all comes together for Lawrence. Chastain was the winner among the critics' groups. She was lovely and impassioned and supportive of Team Bigelow. But, in the end, "Zero Dark Thirty" wasn't a movie about pleasing the audience, but challenging them. Chastain will win an Oscar -- just not in 2013 for Maya. Her descent actually puts Lawrence in a stronger position against Riva, who excelled in what I would describe as the feel-bad movie of the year. However, if Tariq turns out to be correct, I'll buy him a bottle of French wine and happily toast the triumph of experience over youth.

That's a wrap for this week's virtual roundtable in Yahoo! Movies' run-up to the Oscars , to be televised this Sunday. If you'd like to chime in -- and you have the Oscar chops -- DM me @thelmadams on Twitter.