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Oscar Roundup

Best Picture Nominees

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club focuses on Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a homophobic leer of a man who, in 1985, was diagnosed with AIDS. McConaughey throws himself into this role of bigot-turned-crusader with gusto and skill, but it is Jared Leto, as Woodroof’s transgender partner, who walks away with the heart of the film. — Molly Templeton

 

American Hustle

Director David O. Russell weaves into this story of greed, corruption and double-crossing an epic meditation on the devious ways of the human heart and the lengths to which we go to get what we want — or think we want. Amy Adams and Christian Bale, as star-crossed grifters, give the performances of their careers so far. — Rick Levin

 

Philomena

Steve Coogan plays a former journalist turned political advisor who’s recently lost his job under vague and probably nasty circumstances. Philomena is a character piece that carefully weaves in ugly parts of American and Irish history, and it’s as much about hatred and misused power as it is about faith and forgiveness. — MT

 

Captain Phillips

As in United 93 (2006), director Paul Greengrass hones in on real-life terror in Captain Phillips, about the 2006 Somali hijacking of a U.S. ship. The film is itchy with impending violence. Both Tom Hanks, as Phillips, and Oscar-nominated Barkhad Abdi, as head pirate, give powerhouse performances. The last five minutes are devastating. — RL

 

12 Years a Slave

Director Steve McQueen’s film tells the ugly, astonishing true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man who was kidnapped and sold as a slave in 1841. Ejiofor’s performance is layered and deep, and Michael Fassbender, as the slave master, is tautly excellent. A beautifully made film that shows, efficiently and clearly, how institutionalized bigotry is a thing that affects everyone. — MT

 

Nebraska

Alexander Payne is a slippery director, and you can make an argument for every way of viewing Nebraska: as a point-and-scoff vision of small-town America or as a subtle take on what happens when the American dream doesn’t work out. There’s something deeply cynical in Payne’s work, and Nebraska’s uneasy balance of bitter and sweet makes it feel like a Willy Vlautin novel with half the heart ripped out. — MT

 

The Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese’s latest epic tells the story of Jordan Belfort, a corrupt stockbroker who made a mint before flaming out in a drug-induced ego trip. Wolf is a delightful spectacle, and evidence of a great director operating at the peak of his narrative powers, with a cast and crew that couldn’t be better. A fractured fable for our times. — RL

 

Her

In Spike Jonze’s latest movie, a sad man named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his new operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The palpable loneliness of Her is as much Samantha’s as it is Theodore’s: She may be hyper-intelligent, but she can never sit on a rooftop watching the sunrise. If Jonze occasionally misses a beat, by the end, Her’s sympathy is for everyone. — MT

 

Gravity

Alfonso Cuarón’s movie about two American astronauts (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) weathering a storm of satellite debris is a simple story rendered in epic scales. If ever there was an argument for the latest innovations in digital CGI technology, Gravity is it.  A revolutionary moment in the history of cinema. — RL