Oscars 2017: Bluff your way through this year's best picture nominees

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OscarsImage source, Getty Images

The biggest prize at the Oscars on Sunday is saved for last - the Academy Award for best picture.

This year, nine films are nominated.

If you've not had a chance (or the desire) to see them all, here's a guide to what you need to know - which means that this contains spoilers.

Make sure you read this before going anywhere near a water cooler on Monday morning.


Image source, Paramount Pictures
Image caption,
"What do you mean, I'm not nominated for best actress?"

Who's in it and who directed it? Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and some aliens that look like giant squid are the main stars. Denis Villeneuve is the director.

What's it about? Aliens. NO WAIT COME BACK.

Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguistics expert who is called in by the US Army to translate what aliens who have landed at random spots around the world are trying to say.

Oh, one small thing, she can also see into the future. And has to deal with the fact that she knows her future daughter is going to die of cancer. So yeah, it's pretty intense.

What did the critics say? "An intelligent, eloquent and stirring sci-fi that grips from start to finish, Arrival is up there with the year's best movies." [Total Film]

How likely is it to win? It's picked up a string of trophies during awards season already, but it would it's unlikely to take home the main prize at the Oscars.

Talking point: Even though it's up for best picture, Amy Adams failed to secure a nomination in the best actress category - she was nominated at the Golden Globes and Baftas, though.


Image source, Paramount Pictures
Image caption,
A rare happy moment in Fences

Who's in it and who directed it? Viola Davis and Denzel Washington play husband and wife Troy and Rose Maxson. Washington also directed the film, based on the August Wilson play Fences.

What's it about? This family drama set in 1950s America is centred around the domineering Troy Maxson, who rules his home with an iron fist and has a volatile relationship with his son Cory.

That's not to say he doesn't have a loving relationship with Rose, but it's fair to say her patience is tested by his behaviour later in the film (spoiler: he cheats).

What did the critics say? "It's all too seldom that a feature film combines brilliant acting with a spellbinding flow of language." [The Wall Street Journal]

How likely is it to win? While Washington and Davis are great, the film isn't exactly... cinematic. This one is an outsider.

Talking point: It's not the first time Washington and Davis have played these roles - they were the Maxsons on Broadway in 2010, winning Tony Awards for their performances.

Hacksaw Ridge

Image source, Summit

Who's in it and who directed it? Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving and Teresa Palmer are in the cast of this Mel Gibson war epic.

What's it about? The true story of a guy called Desmond Doss, a World War Two medic who joined the army but refused to even touch a gun - due both to his Christian faith and the fact he has a violent father.

He struggles to be accepted in the army at first but goes on to single-handedly save the lives of 75 men. Warning: it's quite (okay, extremely) gory.

What did the critics say? "Thanks to some of the greatest battle scenes ever filmed, Gibson once again shows his staggering gifts as a film-maker, able to juxtapose savagery with aching tenderness." [Rolling Stone]

How likely is it to win? It's currently the seventh favourite out of the nine - so not very.

Talking point: The film has been seen as something of a comeback for Mel Gibson. His nomination of best director is a sign of him being welcomed back into Hollywood after his career hit rock bottom.

Image source, Studiocanal

Hell or High Water

Who's in it and who directed it? Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster and Chris Pine star; David Mackenzie directed.

What's it about? An ex-con (Foster) and his brother (Pine) resort to robbing banks in an attempt save their family's Texan ranch after the death of their mother. Bridges plays the ranger on their case.

It's been described as a modern Western, but it could also be described as a cops and robbers drama with slices of sharp comedy, or a study of two brothers battling against the system.

What did the critics say?: "Hell or High Water is a thrillingly good movie - a crackerjack drama of crime, fear and brotherly love set in a sun-roasted, deceptively sleepy West Texas that feels completely exotic for being so authentic." [Variety]

How likely is it to win? It's gritty, heartfelt and beautifully written, but it's fair to say this is the rank outsider. And you could be forgiven for it having gone under your radar - it was released in the UK last September, and in August in the US.

Talking point: The producers had to deal with sweltering conditions and rattlesnakes during filming, describing the conditions as "insufferable". What's that saying about suffering for your art..?

Hidden Figures

Image source, Twentieth Century Fox

Who's in it and who directed it? Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae play the three leads. Theodore Melfi directs.

What's it about? Three female mathematicians take jobs at Nasa during the 1960s space race, challenging racial and sexist prejudice along the way.

Katherine Johnson is made to drink from a "coloured" coffee urn and go on 40-minute breaks to get to the "coloured" toilets on the other side of the NASA campus, despite being one of the brightest brains of the whole project.

What did the critics say? "Hidden Figures, both a dazzling piece of entertainment and a window into history, bucks the trend of the boring-math-guy movie." [Time]

How likely is it to win? Could be a surprise winner - and it would definitely be a popular one. The film has done incredibly well at the box office.

Talking point: Free screenings of the film have been put on in the US for young girls who are likely to be inspired by it.

La La Land

Image source, Lionsgate

Who's in it and who directed it? Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are the all-singing, all-dancing stars in Damien Chazelle's film.

What's it about? For those who've been buried under a rock (or just refuse to be swept along by the hype)... the musical traces the stories of aspiring actress Mia and pianist Sebastian, who dreams of opening his own jazz club.

What did the critics say? "Audacious, retro, funny and heartfelt, La La Land is the latest great musical for people who don't like musicals - and will slap a mile-wide smile across the most miserable of faces." [Empire]

How likely is it to win? Very. Like, very very. Bookies say it is the overwhelming favourite - and it doesn't hurt that it's a film all about Hollywood itself.

Talking point: Some have deigned to suggest that La La Land is overhyped and overrated - but that hasn't stopped its juggernaut-like journey through awards season.


Image source, The Weinstein Company

Who's in it and who directed it? Sunny Pawar is Saroo as a young boy, with Dev Patel playing him as an adult. There's also Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman. The film is directed by Garth Davis.

What's it about? This is the staggering true story of a young Indian boy who is adopted after losing his family at a young age.

But he manages to find them again, decades later. With a bit of help from Google Earth.

What did the critics say? "The beauty of Lion is that it explores and allows for the unique possibilities and power of multiple homes, multiple families and multiple selves." [The Chicago Tribune]

How likely is it to win? Dev is certainly in the frame for best supporting actor, but it's not that likely to translate to best picture success.

Talking point: It's been making people cry. A lot. And not just audiences - both Dev and Nicole Kidman say the script made them weep. So if you go to see it, take tissues.

Manchester by the Sea

Image source, Studiocanal

Who's in it and who directed it? Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams star, with Kenneth Lonergan the director.

What's it about? Caretaker Lee Chandler, played by Affleck, has to look after his teenage nephew after his brother (the boy's father) dies.

And he does this while still grieving for his own young children, who died in a house fire. It's safe to say this film is short on laughs.

What did the critics say? "Manchester by the Sea is heartbreaking yet somehow heartening, a film that just wallops you with its honesty, its authenticity and its access to despair." [Los Angeles Times]

How likely is it to win? The Academy tends to like gritty, serious films which could explain why it's currently fourth favourite.

Talking point: The original idea was thought up by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, from the US version of The Office. Damon was actually meant to star as Lee originally, but had other filming commitments.


Image source, Altitude Film

Who's in it and who directed it? Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris and Janelle Monae star in Barry Jenkins's film.

What's it about? Moonlight tells the story of a young man named Chiron through three stages of his life, as he battles life in extreme poverty with an abusive drug addict mother, all the while trying to come to terms with his sexuality.

He has one gay experience in his teenage years but struggles to accept his sexuality in a neighbourhood that is largely hostile towards it.

What did the critics say? "It's a thrilling, deeply necessary work that opens up a much-needed and rarely approached on-screen conversation about the nature of gay masculinity." [The Guardian]

How likely is it to win? It's currently second favourite and has been picking up awards left, right and centre - so watch this space.

Talking point: Naomie Harris is nominated for best supporting actress - yet she managed to squeeze all of her filming into just three days.

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