The Oscar 2014 nominations for Best Picture are in and these are the films hoping to take home a shiny gold statuette. Clear your diaries, these are the movies you should be watching in the run up to the ceremony on 2 March...
FILM: American Hustle
DIRECTOR: David O Russell
STARS: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence
David O Russell’s star-studded black comedy based on the 1980s Abscam scandal – in which the FBI employed con artists to carry out sting operations – is one of the most debauched deliveries to our screens this year. With the characters battling to survive the glamorous chaos of 1980s America, this tragic love story between Adams and Bale beats through one of the freshest scripts this year. This contender could easily hustle its way to the top.
FILM: The Wolf of Wall Street
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
STARS: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey
Turns out the critics and bookies were not crying wolf when they rightly tipped Scorsese’s hard-hitting but hilarious tale of corporate greed. Unlikely duo DiCaprio and Hill bring out the best in one another coming together in what may be remembered as a timeless partnership in the history of dark comedy. Killer dialogue and great performances make this fact-based story of Jordan Belfort an eye-opener, revealing the dark side of the high life. DiCaprio battles a vortex of destruction of his own making, directed with a kinetic energy throughout.
DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón
STARS: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
The nerve-shredding tension of Speed meets the technical perfection of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: a Space Odyssey in this intimate sci-fi spectacular. Sandra Bullock stars as Ryan Stone, a talented medical engineer making her first space-shuttle mission under the command of experienced astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). As the team carry out a service on the Hubble Space Telescope, a planned missile strike on a defunct Russian satellite sends shards of dangerous debris hurtling towards them, instantly destroying the shuttle. With limited oxygen supplies remaining, Stone and Kowalski find themselves trapped in the void, setting the clock ticking on an intense and exhilarating fight for survival. The special effects are tremendous, making full and immersive use of the 3D visuals, while Bullock's almost balletic performance imbues this vertiginous fantasy with a humanity and grace that beautifully complements director Alfonso Cuarón's breathtaking vision.
FILM: 12 Years a Slave
DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen
STARS: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, Dwight Henry, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch
Aside from the milestone 1970s mini-series Roots, Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, and a handful of others, there have been precious few films about slavery in the US told from the point of view of the enslaved. At the very least, director Steve McQueen's adaptation of Solomon Northup's memoir (which was previously adapted for TV in 1984, starring Avery Brooks) represents essential viewing for correcting that imbalance. The added bonus is that it's also a tremendously powerful piece of cinema, a tale of suffering, endurance, courage and abiding humanity about a freeborn man kidnapped and sold into slavery. Yes, the scenes where characters are brutalised and tortured are shocking in the extreme. However, McQueen tempers that horror with a bravura display of directorial craft, so that the most emotionally devastating moments - for instance, a long-held close-up of Northup singing - arrive with maximum force. Chiwetel Ejiofor's restrained, finely modulated lead performance fully deserves all the praise that's been heaped upon it, but the supports, especially Lupita Nyong'o and Michael Fassbender, are no less impressive.
FILM: Captain Phillips
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass
STARS: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman
Greengrass tackles the true story of the US cargo ship, MV Maersk Alabama, which in 2009 became the first American ship to be targeted by Somali pirates for two hundred years. Hanks is commanding as Captain Richard Phillips, who must use his knowledge and resilience to keep himself and his crew alive. Greengrass’ pirates are real; they carry machine guns and attack with merciless ferocity. This true story of bravery, and the extent to which one captain will go to save his ship, definitely deserves a medal.
FILM: Dallas Buyers Club
DIRECTOR: Jean-Marc Vallée
STARS: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto
Another runner in the hustle race; Dallas Buyers Club follows hustler Ron Woodruff (McConaughey), who begs, steals and borrows his way to helping AIDS patients get the medical attention they need after he discovers that he has the disease. Shining light on a medical age that is rarely examined through cinema, the fear and desperation of this life threatening disease brings hope to our screen. McConaughey’s balance of comedy and reality help to tell these true events in a way that ensures they will be recognised for their importance, and remembered forever. The timelessness behind the truth in Dallas Buyers Club is what makes it stand out in the hustle game.
FILM: Inside Llewyn Davis
DIRECTORS: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
STARS: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman
After the success of Searching for Sugarman, musical bio-pics have become hotly in demand. The Coen Brothers’ depiction of the folk scene in 60s Greenwich Village brings the musical era to life, through the highs and the lows of the Big Apple’s developing music scene. This is not just a bio-pic about Llewyn Davis though; it is a cinematic offering to the unadulterated misery that came along with the fascinating folk scene in the 60s. The Coen brothers aptly pay homage to a genre that has in many ways, shaped people’s lives. Vibrant performances from Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan make this a tune worth hearing amongst the nominations.
DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne
STARS: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb
Payne has done well to secure his spot on the nominations list against the likes of big names Cuarón and McQueen, but this nomination is a good recognition of his black and white film. A father, who has won a million dollar prize, embarks on a journey with his estranged son to collect the money. They must travel from Montana to Nebraska, in another travelling movie from Payne, which has secured his place on the road to success.
DIRECTOR: Spike Jonze
STARS: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams
Set in near future Los Angeles, Jonze’s film sees Joaquin Phoenix as a writer who dedicates his life to penning moving material for others. After a break up, he is struggling to come to terms with relationships of his own, until he finds answers in the voice of his computer operating system. Scarlett Johansson is the voice of the computer, and they begin on a mysterious relationship in a story that highlights growing concerns of our dependence on technology in society.
DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears
STARS: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
Frears has made a surprise entry on the nominee list for the 86th awards, but after his success with The Queen, he stands a chance against the big boys with this heart-warming tale. Dench plays a mother who had her child taken away from her in Northern Ireland, and is now embarking on a mission with well-loved Steve Coogan to try and find him again. Dench must deal with the secrets of her past while confronting rejection in this human film that audiences can relate to. This film will push buttons for many, and Frears has been rightly recognised for his ability to awaken powerful memories.
The Oscars 2014 ceremony takes place on Sunday 2 March