Oscars: Best picture nominees

Clips from the nine films nominated for best picture

The films competing for best picture at the 84th Academy Awards have been announced. We take a look at nine hopefuls and what's being said about them.

THE ARTIST

Jean Dujardin portrays George Valentin in The Artist

What's the story? Silent film star George Valentin's career nosedives with the advent of "talkies". Meanwhile Peppy Miller, the girl he loves, sees her star ascend in the era of sound.

Who stars: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell (and a scene-stealing turn from Uggie the Jack Russell terrier).

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

What the critics say: "The Artist is the wonder of the age, as much a miracle as Avatar, though it comes at things from the totally opposite direction" - Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times .

"The Artist encapsulates everything we go to movies for: action, laughs, tears and a chance to get lost in another world. How can Oscar resist?" - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone.

Why it might win: This black-and-white, silent movie harking back to a golden age of Hollywood has enjoyed months of Oscar buzz. And it has a scene-stealing dog. See also: Hugo.

THE DESCENDANTS

The Descendants

What's the story? Set in Hawaii, The Descendants stars George Clooney as Matt King, a husband and father of two daughters, who is forced to re-examine his life and relationships when his wife suffers a boating accident.

Who stars: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Judy Greer

Director: Alexander Payne

What the critics say: "Ostensibly a study of loss and coping with a tragic situation, this wonderfully nuanced look at a father and two daughters dealing with the imminent death of his wife and their mother turns the miraculous trick of possibly being even funnier than it is moving" - Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter.

"The Descendants, if not quite the Oscar sucker-punch many anticipated, is a drama of unusual nuance. It lingers, spawns thoughts, connections, as a great film ought" - Catherine Shoard, the Guardian.

Why it might win: The combination of Clooney (playing against type) and Sideways director Payne could make this a hard one to beat.

EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE

Scene from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

What's the story? After 10-year-old Oskar Schell loses his father in the 9/11 terror attacks, he goes on a search across New York to uncover the secret behind a key his father had hidden away.

Who stars: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright

Director: Stephen Daldry

What the critics say: "There are certainly big, capital-letter themes explored here: Death. Sorrow. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. But through the boy, Daldry brings it all down to a human level" - Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

"Director Stephen Daldry has crafted an adroitly involving, emotionally intense experience" - Kate Stables, Total Film

Why it might win: There's a stellar cast, and Daldry has a strong Oscars record with Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader.

THE HELP

The Help stars (l to r) Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis

What's the story? A heart-tugging drama in which Skeeter, a young white woman, decides to write a collective memoir about the racism and hardships encountered by black maids who work for white families in 1960s Mississippi.

Who stars: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Sissy Spacek

Director: Tate Taylor

What the critics say: "This is as brazen an Oscar-baiter as we're likely to see this year... Yes, it gets a bit sentimental. Yes, some 'Ya-Ya Sisterhood' friendship cliches creep in. Yes, it glosses history. But it's also heartfelt, hilarious and the cast is a dream-team topped by Viola Davis" - Cath Clarke, Time Out .

"I was drawn into the characters and quite moved, even though all the while I was aware it was a feel-good fable, a story that deals with pain but doesn't care to be that painful" - Robert Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.

Why it might win: The ensemble cast offers sparkling performances and the subject matter has Academy appeal. The Help's wide broad audience appeal helped make it a surprise summer hit in the US.

HUGO

Asa Butterfield plays Hugo Cabret in Martin Scorsese's Paris-set Hugo

What's the story? A love letter to the pioneering days of cinema, set in 1930s Paris. Orphan Hugo Cabret lives in a train station and becomes involved in a mystery involving an automaton that belonged to his late father.

Who stars: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee

Director: Martin Scorsese

What the critics say: "Scorsese is film historian enough to recreate early cinema in perfect detail, but Hugo's plot is set in motion by a heart-shaped key. This is a great director's greatest love story" - Kim Newman, Empire.

"As $150m public service announcements about the importance of the film preservation movement go, this is one of the best" - UltraCulture.

Why it might win: It's a love letter to cinema. And the Oscar voters love cinema. See also: The Artist.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard star in Midnight in Paris

What's the story? Hollywood screenwriter Gil, in Paris with his fiancee Inez, discovers a whole new side to the city when he takes a late-night walk and finds himself in the company of his literary heroes of the 1920s.

Who stars: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Carla Bruni

Director: Woody Allen

What the critics say: "Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write again: Woody Allen has made a wonderful new picture, and it's his best, most enjoyable work in years" - Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times.

"Woody's in good form and Paris looks glorious in this droll time-traveling fantasy" - Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter.

Why it might win: Woody Allen hasn't had such good reviews for years. Hollywood does seem to like all things French this year - see also The Artist and Hugo.

MONEYBALL

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in Moneyball

What's the story? Oakland A's manager Billy Beane attempts to put together a baseball club on a budget, by using statistics and spreadsheets.

Who stars: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Director: Bennett Miller

What the critics say: "The picture has drive and humor, but there's an inescapable oddity at its center; Beane and Brand are possessed by a passion that's almost religious in its strength, but it's a religion devoted not to spirit or character but to hard, cold numbers" - David Denby, The New Yorker .

"As sporting dramas go, Moneyball is as unconventional as its protagonist, which in this arena counts as a good thing" - Jason Best, What's On TV.

Why it might win: It's a classic underdog story with the magical writing touch of Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. And it's not really about baseball, is it?

THE TREE OF LIFE

The Tree of Life

What's the story? Director Terrence Malick also takes his audience on a trip to the birth of the universe and back. Grown-up Jack reflects on his childhood in 1950s Texas, with his loving, disciplinarian father, his serene mother and his brothers.

Who stars: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain

Director: Terrence Malick

What the critics say: "There is simply nothing like it out there: profound, idiosyncratic, complex, sincere and magical; a confirmation that cinema can aspire to art" - Ian Nathan, Empire.

"Malick's film has its moments and certainly creates an impression visually, but you could say the same thing about Transformers: Dark Of The Moon" - Catherine Bray, Film4.

Why it might win: It charmed the Cannes film festival, so it could work the same spell at the Academy.

WAR HORSE

Jeremy Irvine in war Horse

What's the story? Based on the Michael Morpurgo novel, this is a tale of friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert. But at the outbreak of World War I, Joey is sold to the British cavalry and dispatched to the front lines.

Who stars: Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Peter Mullan, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irvine, Benedict Cumberbatch

Director: Steven Spielberg

What the critics say: "Sweeping in its style and old-fashioned in its narrative structure, War Horse will likely take its place alongside beloved family films" - Claudia Puig, USA Today.

"Darn you, Steven Spielberg! You made me cry again - and I hate to do that in a movie. War Horse had me blubbering like a baby. Yes, it's a wonderful film, but I wish you had toned things down a bit" - Betty Jo Tucker, ReelTalk Movie Reviews.

Why it might win: Spielberg's three Oscar statuettes have all been for war movies. There's also a fine cast of Brits - and a tear-jerking animal at its heart.

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