Youngest pitted against oldest in battle for Oscars

The Academy Award for Best Actress will this year be contested by both its youngest and its oldest ever nominees. Nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis was shortlisted yesterday for her leading role in Beasts of the Southern Wild, while Emmanuelle Riva, 85, also earned a nomination for her performance in the Palme D'Or-winning Amour.

Their competition in the category comes from Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).

Wallis was aged just five when she beat 4,000 other young hopefuls to the part of Hushpuppy, the tiny heroine of Beasts, a fantasy drama set in a flooded bayou. She had never acted before the film, which began shooting soon after she turned six.

Until now, the youngest Best Actress nominee was Keisha Castle-Hughes, shortlisted in 2003 for Whale Rider, aged 13. The youngest of all acting nominees was eight-year-old Justin Henry, who was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his affecting turn in Kramer vs Kramer in 1979.

Riva was born on 24 February, 1927, and will turn 86 on the same day as this year's Oscars ceremony. Her breakthrough came as long ago as 1959, with a leading role in Alain Resnais's classic Hiroshima Mon Amour. Beasts and Amour are Oscar overachievers, with four and five nominations respectively. Both were nominated for Best Picture, while their directors Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke beat the much-fancied Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck to spots in the Best Director category. They are joined by David O Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and Steven Spielberg (Lincoln).

The nominations were unveiled at a 5.30am ceremony in Los Angeles yesterday. Lincoln leads the field with 12 nods, while Silver Linings Playbook earned a place in all four acting categories.

British hopes rest on Daniel Day-Lewis, the favourite for a record third Best Actor win, for his performance as Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg's biopic. The British-made Les Misérables has garnered eight nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Hugh Jackman.

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