Chastain’s a lone-wolf through much of ‘‘Zero Dark Thirty,’’ interacting with scores of minor characters but never really connecting with anyone as she sinks into a cold, calculating, compulsive and lonely world of her own.
Because of that, Chastain connects less with the audience than Lawrence, who’s an open book of tics, anxieties, desires and doubts. Chastain is extraordinary in extraordinary circumstances; Lawrence is extraordinary in ordinary circumstances. The latter is harder, and Lawrence not only manages that, but also outshines a remarkable cast that includes Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver.
Dominating your scenes when you’re alongside De Niro? Lawrence goes home with an Oscar.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nominees: Alan Arkin, ‘‘Argo"; Robert De Niro, ‘‘Silver Linings Playbook"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, ‘‘The Master"; Tommy Lee Jones, ‘‘Lincoln"; Christoph Waltz, ‘‘Django Unchained.’’
GERMAIN: The big Oscar certainty: supporting actor goes to a previous Oscar winner. All five nominees have won before, and Robert De Niro has won twice.
The prize probably comes down to the two guys in Civil War-era times, Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist firebrand Thaddeus Stevens and Christoph Waltz as a genteel bounty hunter.
Waltz has a disadvantage in that his supporting-actor win for 2009’s ‘‘Inglourious Basterds’’ is fresh in people’s minds, so in a way, he’s up against himself along with the other current nominees. It was clear from the premiere of ‘‘Basterds’’ that no one could top Waltz’s turn as a gleefully evil Nazi. He’s a delight again in ‘‘Django Unchained,’’ but it’s just not as good a role.
Jones, however, is as good as ever as grouchy, uncompromising crusader Stevens. He’s mastered the art of playing noble curmudgeons and should join De Niro as a two-time Oscar winner for the effort.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees: Amy Adams, ‘‘The Master"; Sally Field, ‘‘Lincoln"; Anne Hathaway, ‘‘Les Miserables"; Helen Hunt, ‘‘The Sessions"; Jacki Weaver, ‘‘Silver Linings Playbook.’’
LEMIRE: It sounds so cynical to suggest that if you cut all your hair off, lose a bunch of weight AND play a prostitute, you’re guaranteed to win an Academy Award. But Anne Hathaway does indeed do all of this — and she sings! Live, on camera! As the doomed Fantine in the musical favorite ‘‘Les Miserables,’’ Hathaway isn’t on screen very long before she dies a hacking, wrenching death amid the squalor and tumult of 19th-century France. (Not that screen time matters in this situation: Judi Dench famously won the supporting-actress Oscar for appearing in only seven minutes of ‘‘Shakespeare in Love.") But she has one powerful scene in which she sings the remorseful ‘‘I Dreamed a Dream’’ all in one tear-choked take. It’s not subtle, but it’s effective, and it’s the reason she'll win.