Jessica Chastain leaps up to lead Oscar race, threatening Jennifer Lawrence

A Sony Pictures rep has confirmed to Gold Derby that Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty“) will be campaigned in the Oscar race for lead actress, not supporting as previously presumed widely across the blogosphere. She portrays a CIA staffer who picks up on Osama bin Laden‘s trail and advises the U.S. Navy SEAL Team on their assignment to snag the world’s most wanted terrorist.

This news is a major threat to the Oscar hopes of Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”), who is way ahead in the Best Actress race, according to the Oscarologists polled by Gold Derby. Lawrence is backed by 21 of the 25 pundits, who give her 9-to-5 odds to win

Both Lawrence and Chastain fit the classic profile of a typical Best Actress winner – that is, The Babe Factor. They’re gorgeous ingénues with solid feature film resumes (both are previous Oscar nominees) and they’re now at their career peaks.

Chastain emerged as a breakout star last year when she bagged a supporting Oscar bid for “The Help” and also starred in “The Tree of Life” and “Take Shelter.” Lawrence was nommed in lead for “Winter’s Bone” two years ago and she established herself as a box office superstar toplining “The Hunger Games” earlier this year.

Both Chastain and Lawrence now appear in films with strong Best Picture potential and thus they could benefit from the coattail effect that swept Hilary Swank (“Million Dollar Baby”) and Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare in Love”) to past victories. However, early momentum behind “Silver Linings Playbook” seems to be slipping a bit among Oscarologists while support builds for “Zero Dark Thirty” on our prediction charts.

Meantime, the Hollywood Reporter says that Sony may bump the date of its wide release to theaters from Dec. 16 to Jan. 11, which is one day after the unveiling of Oscar nominations. The film will still have its limited qualifying run in December so that it’s poised for a big Oscar push later.

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