Quvenzhane Wallis, Emmanuelle Riva in Oscar battle of youth versus experience

Quvenzhane Wallis

A young widow, a bayou girl, an elderly woman, a mother and a CIA agent battle it out on Sunday for the Best Actress Oscar, a race that includes the youngest and oldest nominees in the category's history.

Jennifer Lawrence of "Silver Linings Playbook," 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis from "Beasts of the Southern Wild," 85-year-old star of "Amour" Emmanuelle Riva, "The Impossible" lead Naomi Watts and "Zero Dark Thirty's" Jessica Chastain are competing for their first Academy Award.

"Any one of these five can win, it's one of the most hotly contested races in recent memory," Scott Feinberg, lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, told Reuters.

In the long movie campaign season, awards have been split between Lawrence, Chastain and Riva.

Lawrence, 22, who picked up her first Oscar nomination in 2011 for "Winter's Bone," was nominated for her portrayal of an endearing young widow in quirky comedy "Silver Linings Playbook."

The actress won the Golden Globe and Critics' Choice awards in the comedy acting categories, and bested Chastain for the Screen Actors Guild trophy.

"Jennifer Lawrence fits the perfect profile of a winner. (The voters) love an ingenue at the peak of her career," Tom O'Neil of awards website GoldDerby.com told Reuters.

"She is queen of popcorn pictures with 'The Hunger Games' franchise and she is delivering the kind of dramatic performance in 'Silver Linings Playbook' that merit her the ultimate crown," he added.

Chastain, who landed her first Oscar nod for supporting actress for the 2011 film "The Help," has picked up the Critics' Choice Best Actress award, and the Golden Globe for drama actress.

Yet Chastain, 35, an early Oscar front-runner for her role as dogged CIA agent Maya in the Osama bin Laden manhunt thriller "Zero Dark Thirty," has seen some of her support wane in the wake of criticism for the film's portrayal of torture, and director Kathryn Bigelow's omission from the Oscar director's race.

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