Five reasons why Emmanuelle Riva can (and probably will) win Best Actress

1. She has the most challenging role.
As an elderly woman whose health dramatically declines after a sudden stroke, Emmanuelle Riva was charged with true high-difficulty acting rarely seen on the screen. She was required to display her music teacher character in a vibrant and talkative state, and then transform herself into a near vegetative condition. The physical challenges associated with a task like this can’t be downplayed. The actress had to virtually relinquish all of control of her body, and eliminate any “monitoring” which might suggest self-awareness to the audience. Was there ever a moment when you doubted what you were seeing? Many people found the film somewhat difficult to watch, but that’s largely due to how convincing the acting was. Riva has been this year’s critical darling, winning honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics, the National Society of Film Critics, the Boston Society of Film Critics and numerous other groups. While such awards don’t always translate to Oscar, bet that the Academy will surely recognize Riva’s monumental achievement.

2. Support is soft for the category’s perceived frontrunners.
Most pundits are currently predicting a win by either Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook” or Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty.” The pundits are wrong.  Sure, “Silver Linings” is a wonderful film which the Academy obviously adores. And Lawrence has a terrific chemistry with Bradley Cooper and manages to hold her own with Robert De Niro. But is this really an Oscar-caliber performance?  Couldn’t a number of other actresses have played the part just as well? At 22, the “Winter’s Bone” and “Hunger Games” star has a lifetime of great performances ahead of her. Voters will feel content waiting to reward her down the road. The same goes for the slightly older Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty.” A Julliard-trained talent who now seems to appear in every film, she’s certainly solid in “Zero.” However, it’s an understated performance which displays only a fraction of her great thespian range. She’s going to have much richer roles in the future which will earn her Oscar recognition. As for Naomi Watts in “The Impossible,” she’s a widely respected actress and seemingly overdue. If she had a little more screen time and wasn’t the only nomination for her film, she might have a chance. She’s bound to eventually win, but it’s going to be next to impossible this year. Even voters weary of voting for Riva will eventually do so for lack of a better choice.

-ADDPREDICTION:85:6:Click to predict Best Actress Oscar:ADDPREDICTION-

3. Her age isn’t an issue.
Much has been made of the perception that the Academy always goes for the “babe” in the female acting categories. Some would argue that that explains the victories by Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” over Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right,” Reese Witherspoon in “Walk the Line” over Felicity Huffman in “Transamerica,” Charlize Theron in “Monster” over Diane Keaton in “Something’s Gotta Give,” and Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball” over Sissy Spacek in “In the Bedroom.” I would argue that those outcomes had to more to do with the nature of the roles than the attractiveness of the stars. Portman, Witherspoon, Theron and Berry were all given more dramatic parts than their rivals. If the younger actress always prevails, then how did Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady” win over Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn” just last year? Why didn’t Penelope Cruz in “Volver” pull off an upset over Helen Mirren in “The Queen” for the 2006 lead actress trophy? And how in the world did the category’s oldest winner, Jessica Tandy in “Driving Miss Daisy,” defeat the drop dead gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer in “The Fabulous Baker Boys” 23 years ago? Riva will in fact turn 86 on Oscar Sunday. After she wins, perhaps the pundits will finally 86 the tired “babe theory” altogether.

4. The Academy is filled with Francophiles.
There’s a long history of recognizing French films and actors at the Academy Awards. The classic “Grand Illusion” was the first foreign language film nominated for Best Picture following its US release in 1938. While very much in English and shot in Hollywood, “An American in Paris” pulled off a shocking win for Best Picture of 1951. French talents like Isabelle Adjani, Charles Boyer, Leslie Caron, Catherine Deneuve, and Gerard Depardieu have all been nominated for Oscars. Claudette Colbert (French-born), Simone Signoret, Juliette Binoche, Marion Cotillard and Jean Dujardin have even won. If Dujardin presents this year’s Best Actress award as expected, he’ll likely be delighted to read his compatriot Riva’s name. (Watch for him to exclaim “Mon amour!” after opening the envelope.) Why such Academy admiration for the French? Maybe it’s like dining at an upscale French restaurant or ordering a fancy French wine. In fact, you might even compare this year’s Best Actress contest to a dessert menu. You have Jennifer Lawrence’s apple pie, Jessica Chastain’s red velvet cake, Naomi Watts’s coconut tart and Quvenzhane Wallis‘s bread pudding. Then there’s Emmanuelle Riva’s crème brulee. It’s not the obvious selection and it may not even be the tastiest. But somehow it’s just the finest – reflective of the diner’s sophistication and high class. Expect the Academy to say “oui” to Riva’s sublime creation.

5. Because I said so.
Don’t believe me? Consider my track record. Five years ago, I boldly declared (in writing) that Marion Cotillard would win for “La Vie en Rose,” while every expert seemed to be picking Julie Christie in “Away from Her.” After “The Social Network” swept the critics’ awards and Golden Globes two years ago and seemed unstoppable, I presented five reasons why “The King’s Speech” could still win Best Picture. Last year I gave five arguments why both Jean Dujardin and Meryl Streep would take the top acting prizes – even going on television guaranteeing the Iron Lady’s victory. In early December, I suggested that “Silver Linings Playbook” might become the first film since 1981’s “Reds” to earn Oscar nominations in all four acting categories. Am I always right about everything? Of course not. But have I gotten my fellow pundits nervous about this year? I certainly hope so.

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31 thoughts on “Five reasons why Emmanuelle Riva can (and probably will) win Best Actress

  1. Actually I’m unaware of virtually any other actress that could show the skill that Lawrence showed in SLP, shifting emotions almost in the same breath, never conveying the sense that she was acting. Chastain couldn’t do it. Riva in her prime couldn’t do it. Watts couldn’t do it. I think you kill your credibility with that statement. Nor did I find Riva’s role that challenging, and the stroke element is standard Oscar bait.
    I always thought the issue was whose performance was the best,. Your argument is really a rehash of valuing the role over the caliber of the acting. The fact is that Jennifer showed the most acting skill and that is presumably what an acting award should be about, not if you think the role is baity enough. If Riva beats Lawrence it will be an injustice, another example of giving an acting award to a less talented actress.
    Also, age is a factor, only in the sense that Jennifer’s age (22) may be held against her. Of course Riva could win. As could Chastain. But it won’t be because their acting was better. It will be because Jennifer would be the second youngest actress in history to win and the Academy tends to trip over itself to reason its way out of those type of awards, reasoning that she will win some other time. But who can see the future? I say give the award to the best performance come what may.

    to say a role in a Haneke film is “Oscar bait” shows how insane they are
    the only movie designed to be an awards machine this year is SLP. is it really hard for you to see that O. Russell made up three or four scenes of pathetic hysterical behavior so that Lawrence would look like A Great Actress?? Guess what: she’s not great yet. She’s a developing performer. One day she’ll get there. She needs to control some impulses young actors have.
    If there’s justice in the world, Riva will win. And i’m betting she will.

  3. “If Riva beats Lawrence it will be an injustice, another example of giving an acting award to a less talented actress. ” Is this some kind of joke?? Are you ignorant? Look up the history of Riva’s career. Look at what she did for the novelle vague and other movements. She is a treasure of French, European and world cinema. She’s done great work after great work, the kind of work Jennifer Lawrence will never come close to touching because she’s nowhere as sophisticated as Riva was in her prime. Do you think a director like Haneke will consider giving a role like this to Lawrence if her career is made up of terribly written characters like the one in SLP? If she wants to prosper in acting, she needs to go back to where she was with Winter’s Bone, soulful acting, and then develop a real performing identity. I want her to become a great actress, but rewarding below average work in bad movies won’t help her.

  4. She didn’t get a SAG nomination which I think indicates a lack of support from the actors branch. (Marcia Gay Harden is still the only person to win an Oscar without receiving a SAG nomination.)

  5. May the Academy listen to you, mr. Khan! And let’s not forget that Riva previously starred in two foreign language movies that did not win any award but ended up anyway receiving a nomination, both of them are still (deservedly) perceived as “classics” and might be still very well regarded by the elder voting body of the Academy.. I’m talking about “Hiroshima, mon amour” and “Kapò”, the former nominated for original screenplay, the latter as best foreign language film, both at the 1961 Academy Awards. And while Riva only had a supporting role in Kapò, she was excellent in the movie and there was one scene involving her that stirred a lot of controversy – and therefore attention to her – (won’t spoil the scene here).

  6. Ha!! I had my 500 point bet on Riva as soon as Amour was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director. Well this seals it for me, I was also sure Meryl Streep would win last year when everyone else (apart from Mr. Khan) was jumping on the Viola Davis bandwagon. Also I don’t think the lack of a SAG nomination will hurt Riva’s chances very much; it’s possible not that many of the voters had seen it yet, and there seems to be less agreement between the Guilds and the Oscars this year. What this could mean, though, is that SLP goes away empty-handed at the Oscars. I’m not sure anyone’s considered that possibility, but if Lawrence loses to Riva (or Chastain for that matter), I can’t really see it winning anything else, unless David O. Russell upsets Lincoln for screenplay or De Niro beats PSH/TLJ.
    I hope Riva wins anyway. She was astonishing in Amour, and her performance was quite an emotional experience for me as my own grandmother is going through a similar condition (though not quite as severe as in the film).

  7. This could happen, but it’s not fair to say any other actress could play the role of Tiffany in SLP. Lawrence through her ability makes that role, she makes it a belivable role and ultimately makes the movie.Her character was the toughest to pull off if you ask me.I dont think any other actress would have had the range and charisma she brought to the role.

  8. Colin powis: you’re kidding right? Acting isn’t just about looking the part (which is common in most movies), but about being the part and transmitting the character’s emotions to the audience. Just because we see an actor playing a character close to who he/she is in reality, doesn’t mean he/she’ll play that character well. That is the most ignorant comment I’ve read in years. By your logic, any 30 year old independent woman can play a 30 year old independent woman in a movie, right?

  9. I really don’t think that Jennifer Lawrence is such a great actress. If she win the oscar, it will be because of her good looks and not because of her outstanding acting skills.

  10. Lawrence is adorable, but if she wins she’ll become the second youngest Best Actress winner of all time. That in itself might cost her and make them choose Riva instead. Chastain will probably lose some votes due ZDT’s torture controversy. And let’s not forget that Riva’s own HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR regularly shows up on greatest film of all time lists, when critics are polled.

  11. What I’m noticing from some of the award prediction sites is that the bloggers are trying to concoct some reason not to give Lawrence the award. Any reason. First it was Chastain. Now that her position seems dodgy due to the scandals associated with ZDT, it’s off to Watts and Riva. If they seem doubtful, Wallis will certainly get the nod.
    To address a comment below, imho Lawrence is more talented than Riva in her prime. She is in fact more talented than a lot of greats, which Riva is. Directors have labeled Lawrence a once per generation talent. Fact is she is the youngest in history to get nominated twice for Best Actress, and those were not stunt nominations.
    When a major new talent emerges it generally takes people a bit of time to embrace it. Call it the Michael Jordan effect. I get the distinct impression that the bloggers are emotionally having trouble with a 22 year old getting this award, so they are playing the “anyone but Lawrence” game. So it’s on to Riva at the moment.
    Anything could happen. If Jennifer loses it will be because she is 22, even as a two-time nominee. People still want her to “pay her dues”, etc. That’s a crummy rationale, but it’s definitely a factor.

  12. Lawrence is surely very talented and oozes charisma. But she basically admits in interviews that she doesn’t take the “craft” of acting very seriously. One gets the impression that she’s simply reading her lines, rather than building characters. Maybe she’s downplaying her process, but it’s hard to imagine her taking on highly challenging and complex roles, as in Shakespeare, Chekhov, Ibsen, etc.

  13. Donald Sutherland on Lawrence to reporter “You were talking to one of the most brilliant actors of our time, no question.”
    Bradley Cooper- ” When I was a kid, I was so happy to be alive when Michael Jordan was playing or Daniel Day-Lewis was acting. And I’m so happy to be alive..for Jennifer Lawrence.”
    David O. Rusell -“She’s a force of nature.She’s a special actor.”
    Gary Ross, describes her as a “once in a lifetime” talent, comparing her performance to watching “[World Footballer of the Year Lionel] Messi play for the first time”.
    Her and Chastain will be our Meryls in the future.

  14. Tom Oneill mentioned in an Oscar podcast that Riva was the best dramatic actress of the year but the Academy doesn’t always award that. Sandra Bullock in the Blindside was his example. Something to think about.

  15. Riva’s performance was incredible. I like Lawrence quite a bit, but I’m not a fanboy and I don’t work for Harvey Weinstein, i.e. I don’t have quotes promoting her at the ready.

  16. I thought Chastain gave the best performance of the year. Riva was good, but maybe if she was 50, and had to slap on lots of makeup to pretend she was 86 ( a la Streep in Iron Lady) she’d have more of a chance. It’s easier to play old and decrepit when you’re old and decrepit.

    Lawrence is a great prospect, but she doesn’t deserve the Osca this yearr, not because she is too young, but because SLP was kinda cliched rubbish, and her role was more in support of Cooper, than having her own arc.

  17. “I get the distinct impression that the bloggers are emotionally having trouble with a 22 year old getting this award, so they are playing the “anyone but Lawrence” game.” Well, you would think wrong. The real point some of us are making is that a 22-year-old male would not be the frontrunner for this type of performance. For a female performance to live up to the hype, regardless of age, we have to be able to imagine a man in the same position getting the same attention and acclaim. And sorry, but that’s not the case here. She’s a lovely person and oozes charisma, but any performance an actress delivers that wouldn’t be getting the same buzz if a man gave it is one that’s being a little bit overhyped. Lawrence is going to win an Oscar sooner or later, but it should be for a truly great performance, not simply for being charismatic. Guys never win just for being charming and sexy (guys also never win at 22): if you truly believe in equality between the sexes, you cannot simply throw standards out the window and hold girls to a lower standard of excellence than guys. Men are ALWAYS AUTOMATICALLY EXPECTED to pay their dues before winning, women aren’t. If Lawrence gives some spectacularly brilliant performance in the next couple years, she’ll almost have to lose by default just because she won too soon this year.

    “It’s easier to play old and decrepit when you’re old and decrepit.” Riva may be old, but she’s not decrepit. So no, she’s not simply “playing herself” and the decrepitude is not autobiographical.

  18. Felicity Huffman should have won the Oscar for “Transamerica”. 2005 was a great year for movies, but a travesty at the Oscars.

  19. Naomi Watts delivers a performance in “The Impossible” that transcends time and space and will be go down in history as one of the finest captured on film.

  20. For all those commenting about JL winning on account of her good looks, do not doubt that her good lucks may prove to be more of a hindrance than anything. People tend to not take her as seriously then. She is supremely talented. Not to say the others aren’t, but it is a disservice to say she would win because of her looks. All are talented.

  21. if Jennifer Lawrence wins…it would be the end of her..think Gwneyth Paltrow, Renee Zelweeger, Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts…………………….all ended their careers after a single win…

  22. Riva and Watts gave the best performance among the nominees. But it seems the Oscar is becoming more of a popularity contest and less about recognizing the person that gave the best performance. Remember a majority of Oscar voters are men over 50. I do agree that Lawrence performance is not Oscar worthy and Chastain’s lacking. I guess Lawrence is getting a lot of hype because of Harvey Weinstein and on how good the campaign is running.

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