Oscar nominee profiles

The 85th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday. We take a look at the hopefuls and what's been said about them.

AMOUR

What's the story? A French-language drama that focuses on an elderly couple, Anne and Georges, who are retired music teachers with a daughter who lives abroad. After Anne suffers a stroke, her health deteriorates rapidly as her devoted husband looks on powerlessly.

Jean-Louis Trintignant with Emmanuelle Riva in Amour Jean-Louis Trintignant plays one half of the film's long-married couple

Who stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert

Director: Michael Haneke

What the critics say: "All the violence in Amour is crucial to Mr Haneke's rigorous, liberatingly unsentimental world view, one that gazes on death with the same benevolent equanimity as life. All of which is to say: bring hankies. This is a film that will make you weep not only because life ends but also because it blooms." Manohla Dargis, New York Times.

"Amour is a moving love story, a privileged glimpse of a relationship between two people who are everything to each other, and a film that enlarges our understanding of a reality we would prefer not to confront." Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times.

Why it might win: Older Oscar voters could be swayed by the film's theme of sacrifice and undying love and the riveting performances from octogenarians Trintignant and Riva. The film has been a hit with European critics; so far, though, a foreign language title has yet to win the best picture award.

ARGO

What's the story? A dramatisation of the 1979 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation, led by Tony Mendez, to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran using a ruse of a phony Canadian film project.

Ben Affleck in Argo Argo is Ben Affleck's third film as director

Who stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Tate Donovan, Victor Garber

Director: Ben Affleck

What the critics say: "Argo is a crackerjack political thriller told with intelligence, great period detail and a surprising amount of nutty humour for a serious look at the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81." Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter.

"Rarely do serious films allow themselves to be this funny, and given the results here it's hard not to wonder why: Argo's thriller and comedy elements work together deliciously well." Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph.

Why it might win: The film surprised many who had written it off before seeing it and is a further example of Affleck's growing skills as a director. It is rare for a film with a comedic slant to win best picture, yet there is enough of a gritty, taut thriller within Argo to bag it the big one.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

What's the story? Hushpuppy is a little girl who lives a semi-feral life of freedom in a rundown Louisiana town. After a storm floods the area she sets off with her hot-tempered father on a mission to reclaim their land.

Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild Lead actress Quvenzhane Wallis was just six when the film began shooting

Who stars: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Gina Montana, Lowell Landes, Jonshel Alexander

Director: Benh Zeitlin

What the critics say: "Though it sounds like a recipe for chaos, in practice the film's vaunting ideas, wild story and pitch-perfect performances meld into one another in a truly memorable way." Kate Stables, Total Film.

"The exuberant debut by 29-year-old Benh Zeitlin - top drama winner at the Sundance Festival - isn't just a hot mess, it's a Cajun-spiced primal stew. Unquestionably bold and original, it's the strangest film we've seen this year." Jonathan Romney, The Independent.

Why it might win: Though Beasts must be considered an outsider it is one of the true originals in the best picture shortlist. An astounding central performance from its young star and an almost dreamlike-style of storytelling result in a moving modern-day fairy tale.

DJANGO UNCHAINED

What's the story? With the help of German dentist Dr King Schultz, a slave turned bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from brutal Mississippi plantation owner Calvin Candie.

Who stars: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L Jackson

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx from Django Unchained The character of Django, played by Foxx (r), alludes to the hero of a 1966 Italian western

Director: Quentin Tarantino

What the critics say: "The film-maker's audacious talents are given full rein in a wildly entertaining pre-Civil War epic whose comic flourishes only add to the gritty slavery drama's blistering power." Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times.

"The first third of the film is among the most enjoyable - and best-looking - material QT has ever made." Matt Glasby, Total Film.

Why it might win: Tarantino is one of the rare directors who receive top billing above the title of their films. Both Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds earned him best director nominations from the Academy, while the script for the former won him and co-writer Roger Avary Oscars in 1995.

LES MISERABLES

What's the story? A musical set in 19th Century France that tells the story of Jean Valjean, who is hunted for decades by a ruthless policeman after he breaks parole. Valjean agrees to care for the daughter of factory worker Fantine, a decision which changes their lives forever.

Who stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne

Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables Hathaway's performance has been widely praised

Director: Tom Hooper

What the critics say: "To say that Les Miserables is going to be a hit is putting it mildly. This new production - which gives the characters of Jean Valjean, Fantine [and] Cosette a forever life - is going to go down in history for the way it tells a musical tale on the big screen. The result is performances that are raw, real and devastating in their emotional punch." Nicola Christie, The Independent.

"Forget the hysteria of Susan Boyle's rendition: Hathaway's turn of I Dreamed A Dream will get you applauding in the cinema. A performance that deserves to be making headlines above wardrobe malfunctions." Matthew Tucker, The Huffington Post.

Why it might win: The last musical to win best picture was Chicago in 2002; before that it was Oliver! in 1968. Yet Tom Hooper's The King's Speech won four Oscars in 2011 and his inventive, cinematic take on Les Mis has added new power to the long-running stage hit.

LIFE OF PI

What's the story? A young man named Pi Patel survives a disaster at sea and is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor, a fearsome Bengal tiger.

Who stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Gerard Depardieu, Tabu, Adil Hussain

Suraj Sharma with 'Richard Parker' in Life of Pi Ang Lee's film has been praised for its special effects

Director: Ang Lee

What the critics say: "From its opening scene of animals and birds strutting and preening themselves in a sunlit zoo to the final credits of fish and nautical objects shimmering beneath the sea, the movie has a sense of the mysterious, the magical." Philip French, The Observer.

"Ang Lee and David Magee achieved in adapting such a difficult story and bringing it to life with much vivacity and flair." Jeffrey Winston Aidoo, The Huffington Post.

Why it might win: Yann Martel's Booker Prize-winning novel is beloved yet considered by many to be unfilmable. Ang Lee has been praised for his use of 3D and the digital creation of a life-like tiger has left audiences stunned.

LINCOLN

What's the story? In the last four months of his presidency, Abraham Lincoln struggles to end the Civil War while trying to push the 13th Amendment, which would abolish slavery, through the House of Representatives.

Who stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn, James Spader

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln Daniel Day-Lewis in the role of Abraham Lincoln

Director: Steven Spielberg

What the critics say: "Day-Lewis's Lincoln is uncanny, giving off the sensation that this is the closest anyone alive today will ever get to seeing to the President walking around and talking to people." Drew Taylor, Indiewire.

"The movie is, among other things, a message to the [current] President: It is not enough to make fine and noble speeches. In democratic politics, you have to get tough and dirty." David Denby, The New Yorker.

Why it might win: The Academy loves a real life-based drama - recent big-hitters include The Queen and The King's Speech. With Day-Lewis playing one of America's most revered leaders, Spielberg could reap the rewards of his "labours of the waning year".

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

What's the story? After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

Who stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook Lawrence was nominated for best actress in 2011 for Winter's Bone

Director: David O Russell

What the critics say: "Russell involves us so closely in what we're watching that we become emotional participants. And that's because he cares for these people in a wholly unpatronising fashion." Philip French, The Observer.

"Silver Linings Playbook is rich in life's complications. It will make you laugh, but don't expect it to fit in any snug genre pigeonhole. Dramatic, emotional, even heartbreaking, as well as wickedly funny, it has the gift of going its own way, a complete success from a singular talent." Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times.

Why it might win: The romantic comedy drama has been a buzz film since it premiered in Toronto in September. Director Russell enjoyed Oscar success with The Fighter, which saw both Christian Bale and Melissa Leo walk away with trophies in 2011.

ZERO DARK THIRTY

What's the story? A chronicle of the decade-long hunt, led by CIA operative Maya, for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden following the September 2001 attacks and his death at the hands of Navy Seal Team Six in May 2011.

Who stars: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Jeremy Strong

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty Chastain was Oscar-nominated for her turn in The Help

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

What the critics say: "Gripping throughout, with an impressive central performance, this is like a Dogme 95 redo of a Chuck Norris film - by heroic effort, the good guys find and kill a bad guy. How you feel about that is something Bigelow leaves you to decide." Kim Newman, Empire.

"Zero Dark Thirty could well be the most impressive film Bigelow has made, as well as possibly her most personal, as one keenly feels the drive of the film-maker channelled through the intensity of Maya's character. The film's power steadily and relentlessly builds over its long course, to a point that is terrifically imposing and unshakable." Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter.

Why it might win: Kathryn Bigelow has already proved her directing chops and was rewarded with Oscar glory in 2010 for The Hurt Locker. Added to this is a strong performance from Jessica Chastain. The film has had its critics but is being roundly celebrated as an example of solid film-making.

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