Fifth time should be the charm for Oscar nominee Moore

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Frontrunners have been seemingly bypassed, dark horses may be gaining ground and this year's Oscar race has recently become a tumult of question marks.

The Best Actress category is not one of those question marks. Five-time nominee Julianne Moore has already won a Golden Globe, the BAFTA (British Oscar equivalent), the Screen Actors Guild and a big bundle of critics awards. The simple feeling is that with prior nominations for "Boogie Nights," "The End of the Affair," "The Hours" and "Far From Heaven," she's earned it.

Her performance in "Still Alice," playing a linguistic professor and mother who learns she has early onset Alzheimer's, does nothing but bolster that idea. She's predictably terrific.

So what of the other nominees? Well, don't weep too loudly for them. Two already own Oscars and the other two are formerly under-appreciated talents who broke into the big leagues in 2014. Let's run down the list:

Felicity Jones for "The Theory of Everything" — Jones has been working on prestige projects for years, but her portrayal of Jane Hawking has been a revelation to many, both for its understated grit and its romantic shininess, a tough combo to pull off. The movie doesn't offer her any fiery showcase moments — although she does the reticent Brit thing beautifully — so it's the type of role that earns respect (and more roles) instead of awards.

Reese Witherspoon for "Wild" — This nomination caps off a well-calculated comeback for Witherspoon, and that should be enough. She won Best Actress for "Walk the Line" in 2006 then seemed aimless for a while. With "Wild" she hit all sorts of Oscar notes — drug addict searching for redemption, woman conquering the wilderness — but the movie wasn't what you'd call a huge success. No matter, it got her back in the game.

Marion Cotillard for "Two Days, One Night" — Cotillard has been everywhere doing everything since winning Best Actress in 2007 for "La Vie en Rose," starring in blockbusters ("Inception," "The Dark Knight Rises") while still making indies ("Midnight in Paris," "Rust and Bone"). That she received a nomination for this little-seen Belgian gem is some measure of the respect she continues to earn, but her nuanced turn as a woman desperate to keep a factory job probably doesn't have the oomph to win.

Rosamund Pike for "Gone Girl" — Pike seemingly came out of nowhere to land the lead in this adaptation of the wildly popular novel, and then she delivered the crazy with startling intensity. Not bad for a rehabilitated Bond babe, but the truth is Pike has been delivering the goods in films earnest ("An Education") and hilarious ("The World's End") for quite a while. If anyone has a chance to steal the Oscar from Moore, it's her, simply because this is a full-on showy role in a blockbuster movie and, well ... she was pretty crazy.

Julianne Moore for "Still Alice" — The movie just arrived in most theaters, but Oscar voters have been hearing about it for months and will seek it out. The level of respect Moore has earned, combined with her complete embrace of Hollywood (remember, she's in "The Hunger Games" and did the "Carrie" remake), and the simple fact that this is a truly harrowing, heartbreaking role make for the perfect Oscar storm. Again, this is her FIFTH nomination. Finally, she wins.

Should win: Julianne Moore for "Still Alice"

Will win: Julianne Moore for "Still Alice"

The 87th Academy Awards Show

Hosted by Neil Patrick Harris

8 p.m. Feb. 22