The Oscar nominations are out, and soon, everybody’s going to be hotly debating which of the nominees will be crowned Best Picture on Feb. 22. We at RT are here to get you up to speed, so with that in mind, here’s a quick overview of the contenders:
Powered by Clint Eastwood’s sure-handed direction and a gripping central performance from Bradley Cooper, American Sniper delivers a tense, vivid tribute to its real-life subject. “It’s a gritty, confident portrait of a man whose life may have been somewhat messier than this Hollywood version,” wrote Richard Corliss of Time Magazine.
A thrilling leap forward for director Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman is an ambitious technical showcase that features a layered story and outstanding performances from Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. “It’s a quasi-religious fable about a man haunted by the past and facing a profound moral and existential crisis in the present, and it’s a dazzling display of virtuoso cinematic technique and showboat performances,” wrote Andrew O’Hehir of Salon.com.
Epic in technical scale but breathlessly intimate in narrative scope, Boyhood is a sprawling investigation of the human condition and an unqualified triumph for director Richard Linklater. “Few filmmakers ever make a great movie,” wrote Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Fewer still ever make a movie that expands what movies can express. Richard Linklater does both with Boyhood.”
Typically stylish but deceptively thoughtful, The Grand Budapest Hotel finds Wes Anderson once again using ornate visual environments to explore deeply emotional ideas. “If a movie can be elegantly zany, this wholly imaginative, assured fable of a legendary concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), his protégé Zero (Tony Revolori) and the murder of a countess, is it,” wrote Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post.
With an outstanding starring performance from Benedict Cumberbatch illuminating its fact-based story, The Imitation Game serves as an eminently well-made entry in the “prestige biopic” genre. “The Imitation Game leaves Turing’s essential mysteries intact, but they will nonetheless find even the most public contours his story ripe with drama, excitement and deeply affecting resonance,” wrote Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post.
Fueled by a spellbinding performance from David Oyelowo, Selma draws inspiration and dramatic power from the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. — but doesn’t ignore how far we remain from the ideals his work embodied. “History becomes breathtaking drama in Selma; there’s an urgent realism in the storytelling, as if we’re seeing this just in time,” wrote Moira MacDonald of the Seattle Times.
Part biopic of Stephen Hawking, part love story, The Theory of Everything rises on James Marsh’s polished direction and the strength of leads Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. “What Redmayne does is breathtaking-and it never feels like a performance,” wrote Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly. “In a much less showy role, Jones does her own heartbreaking work as the woman who dedicated her life to loving and caring for Hawking.”
Intense, inspiring, and well-acted, Whiplash is a brilliant sophomore effort from director Damien Chazelle and a riveting vehicle for stars J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller. Music instruction and combat are rarely linked in movies, and particularly not in the singularly riveting way they come together in Whiplash,” wrote Claudia Puig of USA Today.