Last year, picking the woman of the year was a no-brainer. We chose Jessica Chastain, who started 2011 as a virtual unknown, and ended it as the star of critical favorites like “The Tree Of Life” and “Take Shelter,” box office hits like “The Help” (for which she earned an Oscar nod), all while impressing with diverse roles across a slate of films including “The Debt,” “Coriolanus,” and “Texas Killing Fields.” And this year, we went with another young actress who also showed tremendous range, with acumen both at the multiplex and arthouse.
Yes, it’s Jennifer Lawrence. The actress, who turned 22 in August, has had one of the most meteoric rises we can remember. Her feature film debut, in Guillermo Arriaga‘s “The Burning Plain,” came only four years ago. Two years later, she exploded as a result of her starring role in Sundance flick “Winter’s Bone” — playing the steely, determined Ree deservedly won her, at only 20 years old, a Best Actress Oscar nomination. That led to other indie roles in “Like Crazy” and “The Beaver,” as well as a studio tentpole debut as Mystique in “X-Men: First Class,” in which she made a character who’d been a cypher in previous films one of the most interesting parts of the movie.
But that was nothing compared to playing the highly sought-after role of Katniss Everdeen in the adaptation of young adult phenomenon “The Hunger Games.” The film hit theaters earlier in the year, and proved to be a massive success (unadjusted, the thirteenth biggest of all time), and in another fierce turn, Lawrence proved she can carry a giant tentpole movie pretty much entirely on her shoulders; she dominates it, creating one of the strongest, most badass female heroines of recent years, and almost singlehandedly rebuffing idiot studio executives who claim that audiences won’t turn up to see event movies led by women.
But more was still to come (though not, it should be said, from the oh-hey-look-what-we-found-in-a-drawer “House At The End Of The Street“). Lawrence beat out pretty much every one of her contemporaries (including Rooney Mara, Kirsten Dunst, Rachel McAdams and Andrea Riseborough) for the female lead in David O Russell‘s “Silver Linings Playbook,” which premiered at TIFF back in September. The quirky romantic-comedy swiftly became the talk of the festival, a true crowd-pleasing hit that won the Audience Award, and Lawrence was immediately anointed a locked-in Oscar contender.
Her performance as Tiffany, the grieving young widow who befriends, falls for and helps to save Bradley Cooper‘s Pat, is filled with both electric energy and emotional vulnerability. Taking a part that, on the page, risks flirting with Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory, Lawrence fleshes her out into a maddening, unique, and entirely authentic creation. It’s about a million miles away from her turn in “The Hunger Games,” allowing Lawrence to show off both a deft comic side and a romantic longing that her previous work had barely touched on. Right now, it seems like there’s almost nothing she can’t do.
She’s also proven, in interviews, to be smart, hilarious, independent, entirely atypical of the Hollywood starlet, and all kinds of adorable (Exhibit A: this wildly endearing photo of her reacting to her Oscar nomination for “Winter’s Bone” Exhibit B: the “Late Show With David Letterman” interview below).
A certain amount of the next few years is going to be taken up with franchise duty; she’s wrapped on “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” and will shoot its two-part sequel “Mockingjay,” as well as “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” next year. But there’s lots more to come too, not least a reunion with Bradley Cooper on Susanna Bier‘s “Serena,” which she shot this year, and could find her back in awards talk in 2013. Plus the Weinsteins have snapped her up to star in period piece “The Ends Of The Earth,” from “Argo” writer Chris Terrio, while she’s also attached to “Glass Castle“ at Lionsgate. And all this at only 22. The future is looking very bright for Jennifer Lawrence.