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The Oscar race this year is already something of a head-scratcher, and right at the center of it is a surprisingly light field of Best Actress contenders. Despite a clear front-runner — Julianne Moore for her devastating performance in "Still Alice" along with the alarming fact that she hasn't already won an Oscar — the category is looking a bit thin. And while that's more a commentary on the state of film and lead roles for women this year, it doesn't mean there aren't enough outstanding performances out there to make this race interesting. Here's a look at the contenders:
The shoe-in: Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"
Seriously, Moore's toughest acting job now is continuing to be surprised each time she nabs a trophy between now and February 22. She's basically this year's McConaughey.
Reese Witherspoon, "Wild"
Previous winner Witherspoon turns in a solidly harrowing performance in "Wild," but it falls just short of the mark.
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Felicity Jones, "The Theory of Everything"
It took some time for critics to see past the brilliance of her co-star — and another shoe-in nominee — Eddie Redmayne, but Jones should be recognized as well for her stellar work as Stephen Hawking's first wife, Jane.
Rosamund Pike, "Gone Girl"
People might have come for a glimpse at Ben Affleck's junk, but they stayed for Pike's surprising, chilly performance. Some of us, though, have been Pike boosters for years, so there.
Jennifer Aniston, "Cake"
While some have dismissed Aniston's turn in this indie as little more than makeup-free stunt-casting, she shows some impressive dramatic chops — which anyone who's seen "the Good Girl" or "Friends with Money" already knew.
Hilary Swank, "The Homesman"
Two-time Oscar winner Swank has been looking for that comeback vehicle to bring her a third trophy for a while, and this one came close, but maybe voters just weren't in the mood for a gritty frontier drama this year.
Emily Blunt, "Into the Woods"
It might be tough to single out anyone in this sprawling ensemble as a "lead," but Blunt comes closest as the Baker's Wife. And she's a standout in that big cast, holding her own against Meryl Streep, even.
Scarlett Johansson, "Under the Skin"
If the Academy wanted to play things a little riskier, it could recognize the "Avengers" star's transformative — and nearly silent — work in Jonathan Glazer's hypnotic and eerie science-fiction thriller.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick