Hollywood seemed to forget about powerful leading roles for women this year... we go inside Oscar's quietest (and saddest) race

By Nicole Sperling
November 21, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST

Thank goodness for Reese Witherspoon. Despite a recent surge in strong roles for women (e.g., Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook), Hollywood really dropped the ball when it came to showcasing interesting roles for actresses in 2014. If it weren’t for Witherspoon’s newfound strength as a producer, two of this year’s likely nominees wouldn’t exist, and the Best Actress race would look even more dire than it does. Witherspoon herself is one of the primary contenders, of course, for her portrayal of a novice hiker looking for redemption in the adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild (which the actress produced). But she also optioned and developed the box office hit Gone Girl, which should land a nomination for Rosamund Pike, playing the iciest (and scariest) wife in modern cinema. Neither of them is the frontrunner, however. That position belongs to Julianne Moore. Not only does Moore deliver an unflinching performance as a 50-year-old woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s in the low-budget Still Alice, the four-time nominee has never gone home with the statuette. She’s long overdue for a podium walk.

Rounding out the top four is British actress Felicity Jones, who should garner a spot for her stalwart performance as Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything. And the final nod? Frequent nominee Amy Adams (Big Eyes) or frequent winner Hilary Swank (The Homesman) could nab it, but they’ll have to contend with previous Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) and a few Oscar-race newcomers: Mia Wasikowska for her one-woman walkabout in Tracks, Shailene Woodley for her cancer-stricken-teen role in The Fault in Our Stars, and Jennifer Aniston for her embodiment of a woman battling chronic pain and a broken heart in the indie flick Cake. Each of these performances is worthy of acclaim and attention. The shame lies in the fact that there aren’t more of them.