In profile: 2014 Oscar winners

A look at the best picture winner and the other nominees at the 86th Academy Awards.

WINNER: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

12 Years a Slave

Director: Steve McQueen

Cast includes: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson

What's the story? In 1841, Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. In the face of cruelty by his owners, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity.

What the critics say: "Slavery often gets debated by wig-wearing white folk in the movies - as if there's any debate to be had - but when has it ever been truly "shown"? When have we had to confront, as we surely must, the raw experience of it, the hell of it, the brutality, indignity and rage? Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave supplies all of the above in shattering doses, but it's the nobility of this remarkable film that pierces the soul." Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

AMERICAN HUSTLE

American Hustle

Director: David O Russell

Cast includes: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner

What's the story? Loosely based on a real-life FBI sting operation, it tells of con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Bale), and his partner in crime, Sydney Prosser (Adams), who are forced to work for FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Cooper), to bring down a corrupt politician.

What the critics say: "Revelling in its '70s milieu and in the eternal abrasion of sexy women and covetous men, American Hustle is an urban eruption of flat-out fun — the sharpest, most exhilarating comedy in years. Anyone who says otherwise must be conning you." Richard Corliss, Time

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Captain Phillips

Director: Paul Greengrass

Cast includes: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Catherine Keener

What's the story? Based on the true story of the 2009 hijacking of the US container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates, the film focuses on the relationship between the Alabama's commanding officer, Captain Richard Phillips (Hanks) and the Somali pirate captain, Muse (Abdi), who takes him hostage.

What the critics say: "On one level, it's an expert Hollywood entertainment of choreographed chaos with an impressive, if familiar, award-season star turn from Tom Hanks as an Everyman turned hero. Yet Captain Phillips manages to expose us to a few things that are unusual in a thriller, including sympathy for the enemy and, in Hanks's performance, the frailty that is the other side of heroism." Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

Dallas Buyers Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Cast includes: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner

What's the story? The true story of Texas electrician Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), who was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1985 and given 30 days to live. Along with transgender woman Rayon (Leto), he sets up a drug ring, the Dallas Buyers Club, to supply unauthorised Aids drugs obtained from abroad.

What the critics say: "Dallas Buyers Club, which is notable for the actors' physical alterations, is ultimately about the transformation of a man from a homophobic wastrel into the leader of a grassroots campaign for survival - both his own, and those he once reviled. Ron Woodroof's story has a universal appeal in that it examines the way in which our greatest challenges call upon us to be more than we are, or ever imagined we could be." Roth Cornet, IGN Movies

GRAVITY

Gravity

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Cast includes: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

What's the story? Calamity strikes during a shuttle mission leaving astronauts Dr Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) stranded in space.

What the critics say: "It goes without saying that Gravity must be seen in theatres to be appreciated; the prospect of watching this movie on anything less than a 40-foot screen is tantamount to listening to Beethoven through a tin can and a string. And this is that rare case when 3D is essential. But in creating such a technical and artistic tour de force, Cuaron has not only brought back a sense of special-ness to the cinema, but also restored monumentality to its stars, making it a point to film Clooney and Bullock so that they loom as imposingly as the planets along with which they're helplessly spinning." Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

HER

Joaquin Phoenix in Her

Director: Spike Jonze

Cast includes: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson

What's the story? Shy writer Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) falls in love with Samantha, his computer's operating system.

What the critics say: "Kudos to Scarlett Johansson, who speaks Samantha in tones sweet, sexy, caring, manipulative and scary. Johansson's vocal tour de force is award-worthy. So is the movie. Ignore the soft ending. Jonze is a visionary whose lyrical, soulful meditation on relationships of the future cuts to the heart of the way we live now." Pete Travers, Rolling Stone

NEBRASKA

Nebraska

Director: Alexander Payne

Cast includes: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb

What's the story? Cantankerous Woody Grant (Dern) sets out with his son (Forte) on the trail of a dubious lottery win.

What the critics say: "It's an intimate road movie about one family, yet it also lingers on the landscapes and fabric of an old-time, dying vision of the American Midwest." Dave Calhoun, Time Out

PHILOMENA

Philomena

Director: Stephen Frears

Cast includes: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan

What's the story? The true story of an Irish woman (Dench) who, while a teenager, was forced to give up her young son for adoption in the 1950s. Some 50 years on she meets ex-BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith (Coogan), who realises that she has a remarkable story, and they set off together to track down her missing child.

What the critics say: "Philomena is something yearned for and lusted after by film-makers and journalists alike - a really good story. It's a powerful and heartfelt drama, based on a real case, with a sledgehammer emotional punch and a stellar performance from Judi Dench, along with an intelligently judged supporting contribution from Steve Coogan. Yet the film's apparent simplicity and force come to us flavoured with subtle nuances and subtexts, left there by the people who brought this story to the public." Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast includes: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie

What's the story? The rise and fall of Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) who made millions though fraudulent share sales via his US brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont, and splashed his cash on fast cars, planes, yachts, drink, drugs and prostitutes.

What the critics say: "Belfort's riches-to-slightly-less-riches tale has been brought to the screen by no less a connoisseur of charismatic sociopaths than Martin Scorsese, and the result is a big, unruly bacchanal of a movie that huffs and puffs and nearly blows its own house down, but holds together by sheer virtue of its furious filmmaking energy and a Leonardo DiCaprio star turn so electric it could wake the dead." Scott Foundas, Variety

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