By David Salazar ( | First Posted: Dec 30, 2012 02:14 PM EST

Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet at the 83rd Academy Awards (Credit: Tabercil / Creative Commons)

The Best Actress race is one of the most unpredictable Oscar races of the 2012 awards season. While a few actresses are locked for a nomination as top contenders, there is still a plethora of actresses that have a good chance of earning a surprise nomination. The following is a breakdown of the current state of the race.

The Locks

Like most of the other major races, this one has three actresses that can be assured a nomination. Jessica Chastain's performance as Maya in "Zero Dark Thirty" has been lauded as one of the top contenders to win the prize. She has led all previous awards with 11 wins for Best Actress. The National Board of Review, Washington DC critics, Boston Online Critics have been among the organizations to award her with the honor. More importantly, she earned nominations in the top three awards organizations: the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, and the Screen Actors Guild. Chastain had her breakout year in 2011 and was nominated for her first Oscar for her work in "The Help."

Jennifer Lawrence's performance in "Silver Linings Playbook" is also a lock in this category. Lawrence received nominations at the three major precursors and has won eight best actress awards from such organizations as the Los Angeles Film Critics and the Satellite Awards. Lawrence was nominated for her only Oscar back in 2011 for her work in "Winter's Bone."

The final lock in this category is Marion Cotillard for her work in "Rust and Bone." Despite the film being in French, the Oscar winner was nominated for SAG, the Golden Globes, and the Critics Choice. Cotillard has also won two precursors from the Hollywood Film Awards and Las Vegas Film Critics. The French star has enjoyed a reputable Hollywood career after winning an Oscar in 2008 for French film "La Vie en Rose."

Contenders for Final Two Spots

The Best Actress pool is extremely deep this year with five actresses in major contention for the final two spots. Naomi Watts broke into the race with a SAG nomination that was later substantiated by a nod from the Critics Choice and Golden Globes. "The Impossible" has not had a wide release yet, but early reviews indicate that the actress delivers a powerhouse performance. Some even believe she could potentially win the award, but she has yet to win any precursors. More importantly, the film has not garnered much Oscar buzz and its campaign has been rather quiet to this point -something that could hurt her chances. Watts received her only Oscar nomination back in 2004 for her performance in "21 Grams."

Helen Mirren's standing in the race also received a massive boost after earning a SAG nomination. She later received a Golden Globe nomination, but was left off the Critics Choice list (which includes six candidates). Mirren has also not won any precursors and her film "Hitchcock" has barely had any campaign or buzz in awards season. Mirren has been nominated for four Oscars and won in 2007 for her role in "The Queen." Her history could be enough to sway voters to pick her for another round at the Golden Statuette.

Naomi Watts in
Naomi Watts in "The Impossible."

Another surprising contender is Rachel Weisz for the low profile film "The Deep Blue Sea." Weisz entered the race when she won the Best Actress award from the New York Film Critics, but her status as a contender was cemented when the Golden Globes gave her a nomination for Best Actress in a Drama. She has also won the award for the Toronto Film Critics, but her exclusion from SAG and the Critics Choice works against her. The fact that the film was rarely seen could also hurt her chances as the lack of a substantial campaign will mean that fewer voters watch her performance. The Academy does occasionally pick a few surprises in each category and Weisz certainly fits the bill. Weisz has only been nominated once in her career and won Best Supporting Actress in 2006 for "The Constant Gardener."

Emmanuelle Riva is also a strong contender for the nomination thanks to a Critics Choice nominations as well as a plethora of other precursor victories. Aside from Chastain and Lawrence, no other actress in the race has more precursor wins than Riva for her turn in Michael Haneke's "Amour." The veteran has five victories that include wins at the New York Online Critics, the Boston Film Critics, the Los Angeles Film Critics, the San Francisco Film Critics, and the European Film Awards. "Amour" is a contender to earn a best picture nomination, but the problem with Riva's campaign comes down to the fact that Cotillard is already a lock and the Academy may not feel inclined to nominate two Actresses in foreign films . The other issue is whether they think nominating two French Actresses might show some bias. Riva has never been nominated for an Oscar and this could be her biggest chance.

The final major contender is nine-year old Quvenzhané Wallis for her breakout performance in "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Wallis was nominated for a Critics Choice award but omissions from the SAG and Golden Globes could spell the end of her chances in the race. The Academy has never shied away from nominating kids. In 2011, they nominated Hailee Steinfeld for her performance in "True Grit." In 2008, Saoirse Ronan was nominated for her turn in "Atonement" and Abigail Breslin got a nod in 2007 for her role in "Little Miss Sunshine." The youngest child to be nominated for an Oscar was eight-year-old Justin Henry for his role in "Kramer vs. Kramer" back in 1979. Wallis could potentially steal a nomination, but "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is not a lock for Best Picture and that alone could hurt her chances.

Predictions: The final two spots will go to Naomi Watts and Rachel Weisz. Watts is slowly picking up steam and so is her performance. Weisz is the surprise pick in this category. Riva would likely fill the last spot if not for the aforementioned foreign language issue. The Academy does not seem to be that interested in giving too many foreign films too much recognition and this will hurt her chances.

Read About the State of the Best Supporting Actress Race.

Read About the State of the Best Supporting Actor Race.

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