Oscars 2015: The Best Picture nominees

Reviews, trailers and details of stars and directors for this year's eight best picture contenders

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The Oscar nominations are in and the films battling to take home the most prestigious trophy of the night are…

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American Sniper

Director: Clint Eastwood

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman

A confident yet thoughtful performance from a bulked-up Bradley Cooper is the solid centre of director Clint Eastwood’s absorbingly matter-of-fact biopic of the most lethal sniper in US military history. Texas patriot Chris Kyle (Cooper) notched up 160 confirmed kills during four tours of Navy SEAL duty in post 9/11 Iraq and Eastwood succinctly charts his life through sharpshooting youth, riding rodeo, rigorous warrior training, marriage to a long-suffering wife (played by an impressive Sienna Miller) and becoming a reluctant hero/legend (as well as the prime target of insurgents). It’s a cracking story laced with heart-stopping finger-on-trigger suspense outlining Kyle’s battlefield precision and judgement calls on whether to kill men, women or children, and providing moving insights regarding the psychological effects of warfare on the home front. With the final haunting frames bound to surprise those unaware of Kyle’s career, this is hard-nosed myth-making at its finest from a director at the top of his game. Alan Jones


Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Stars: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton

The late-midlife crisis of a fading Hollywood star is the basis of this surprisingly profound and extraordinarily kinetic satire about life and success in the age of social media. Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, an actor who found fame in the 1990s with a trilogy of superhero films based around the title character. When the film starts, Thomson is about to debut his first play as writer, producer, director and star, a piece adapted from Raymond Carver’s short stories. But as woes pile on in the lead-up to opening night (money is tight, publicity is non-existent, a key player gets KO’d) Thomson begins to hear the persuasive voice of his one-time alter ego. The Birdman conceit is a good excuse for some great effects, but where Babel director Alejandro González Iñárritu really excels is in delivering an excellent drama about a man on the edge. Perhaps his best decision was to cast Keaton (Hollywood’s pre-Christian Bale Batman), who is outstanding as the lead, and Edward Norton, superb as his nemesis, the method actor from hell. Damon Wise


Boyhood

Director: Richard Linklater

Stars: Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette

As his Before… trilogy perfectly illustrated, Richard Linklater is a film-maker obsessed with time – both its passing and the difficulty of ever truly capturing it on film. With the extraordinary Boyhood, the story of a young American every-boy (Ellar Coltrane), shot at intervals over 12 years with the same cast, the director comes closer than ever to achieving the impossible. Tracking Coltrane up to the age of 18, the film is told not through births, marriages and deaths but the moments in between, casually punctuated by cultural milestones like midnight Harry Potter book launches, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the wave of optimism that swept Obama to his historic first presidential term. Elevated by fantastic performances all round – especially from Patricia Arquette as the boy’s quietly heroic single mother – and told with Linklater’s trademark generosity and lightness of touch, Boyhood is an epic of the everyday, as uplifting as it is universal. Sophie Ivan


The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director: Wes Anderson

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric

Who knew Ralph Fiennes could be roll-around funny? But that’s exactly what he is here, as the comedy keystone in writer/director Wes Anderson’s weird and wonderful crime story. M Gustave (Fiennes) is the diligent yet slightly dissolute concierge at a five-star establishment in a fictional Alpine country that is being overrun by fascists in the 1930s. When a wealthy old matriarch (Tilda Swinton looking like the Bride of Frankenstein after a few rounds in a tumble dryer) is murdered, Gustave becomes the prime suspect. However, he’s so gosh-darned charming that a question mark remains, even after he bounds away from Edward Norton’s policeman in a typically droll scene. Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe bring a thicker air of foreboding as they contest Swinton’s will, which rewards Gustave for “special services”. Newcomer Tony Revolori plays Gustave’s loyal protégé, Zero, but he is somewhat overshadowed by the rest of a starry cast that includes Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson. Showing things from Zero’s point-of-view allows Anderson to ground an increasingly wild yarn, but unlike the pseudo-earnestMoonrise Kingdom, this film’s fabricated feel (reflected in exquisitely pretty art design) enhances the fairy-tale magic. This is a hotel you’ll want to revisit again and again. Stella Papamichael


The Imitation Game

Director: Morten Tyldum

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech

Headhunters director Morten Tyldum here takes on the important story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the genius cryptographer who cracked the infamous Enigma code during the Second World War. The film explores his methods, his clashes with colleagues and his homosexuality, which was illegal in Britain at the time and had much to do with the tragic end to his life. The subject matter is potentially dry (particularly as much of the movie is set in a shed) but Tyldum’s direction ensures it’s an absorbing journey throughout. While the script doesn’t allow much exploration of Turing’s sexuality, Cumberbatch is outstanding and delivers a career-best performance, betraying his character’s innermost feelings through delicate inflections. He also has fine sparring partners in Charles Dance (as Turing’s superior), and Keira Knightley as his confidante and fiancée. Fascinating and thrilling, The Imitation Game keeps you gripped by always offering a reminder of what’s at stake, as well as exploring the mind of a brilliant but unfairly treated war hero who should never be forgotten. James Luxford


Selma

Director: Ava DuVernay

Stars: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Opra Winfrey

This historical drama from black director Ava DuVernay charts the voting marches led by Martin Luther King, from the Dallas city of Selma to the Alabama capital of Montgomery in March 1965. The aim of the marches was to encourage President Lyndon B Johnson to push through a bill securing equal voting rights for African-Americans across the United States but they involved violent confrontations between marchers and police and state troopers. British actor David Oyelowo (known to fans of BBC spy drama Spooks as MI5 officer Danny Hunter) brings the necessary gravitas to the role of the civil rights leader, and proves uncanny in mimicking King’s speech and mannerisms, while the film itself is widely recognised as an important history lesson as well as a compelling drama.


The Theory of Everything

Director: James Marsh

Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior

The Theory Of Everything is a conventional biopic in almost every aspect, except that it’s about a man more famous for his thoughts than his deeds: physicist Stephen Hawking – author of the 1988 bestseller A Brief History Of Time – here, played by Eddie Redmayne. That makes it a slightly different proposition and, for once, there’s hardly a whiff of pantomime in its elegant period detail as director James Marsh (who won an Oscar for the documentary Man on Wire) starts the story back in 1963, when Hawking is a student at Oxford, yet to be diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Strangely, though, once the symptoms take hold, the drama loses its initial momentum, charting the end of Hawking’s marriage to his selfless first wife Jane (a sensitive performance by Felicity Jones) and the rise of his celebrity in a well-played but not very stimulating way – like a movie of the week that sells his scintillating intellect short. Fortunately, in the lead role, Redmayne handles all the stages of Hawking’s terrible disease with great tact, always careful to portray the man and not the illness. Damon Wise


Whiplash

Director: Damien Chazelle

Stars: JK Simmons, Miles Teller, Melissa Benoist

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JK Simmons and Miles Teller go head to head in this intense, thrilling and surprising tale, which turns the concept of the inspirational teacher upside down. Teller is fantastic as a young drummer with high aspirations, while Simmons is spectacular as his terrifying, foul-mouthed mentor. Lucy Barrick