Nine films to compete for the best picture Oscar

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From a quirky fairy tale romance to a dark comedy about a murder investigation, via a couple of coming-of-age tales and a horror satire, the contenders for the best picture Oscar offer audiences an array of genres and themes.

An Oscar statue is protected from the rain with a plastic cover during the preparations for the 90th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California US on 2 March 2018. Reuters

Here is a brief summary of the nine films vying for the most prestigious prize at Sunday’s Oscars ceremony:

‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

Martin McDonagh’s darkly funny tragicomedy has surged at the 11th hour to go into Sunday as the narrow favorite in what most experts are characterizing as a four-way race with “The Shape of Water,” “Get Out” and Lady Bird.”

Oscarologists see its star Frances McDormand as a sure thing for the best actress statuette for her visceral turn as a rage-filled grieving mother at loggerheads with the local police over the failure to find her daughter’s killer.

The film’s late momentum comes as something of a surprise after it was hit by the biggest backlash of any of this year’s contenders.

The criticism mainly centers on what has been perceived as a cheap redemption for racist, violent cop Dixon, played by Sam Rockwell-a performance that has made him a favorite for best supporting actor honors.

‘The Shape of Water’

Guillermo del Toro’s romantic Cold War-era fantasy tells the story of a mute cleaning woman who falls in love with a captive magical river creature in a secret US government lab in 1960s Baltimore.

The movie starring Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer nabbed the most Oscar nominations with 13, including best picture, director and actress.

It has lost some momentum in the best picture race, where it was the favorite for several weeks but now is in second place in the betting.

‘Get Out’

The bold satire about race relations-told by first-time feature director Jordan Peele in the form of a fantastical horror movie-is one of the top five best critically-received movies of all time, according to Rotten Tomatoes, which collates reviews.

It tells the grisly tale of an African American spending the weekend with his white girlfriend’s family, and discovering all is not as it seems.

The Universal/Blumhouse film-which cost $4.5 million to make-has raked in $255 million so far at the box office.

‘Lady Bird’

A film with a female perspective has not won best picture since “Million Dollar Baby” in 2005 and coming of age tale “Lady Bird” would be a popular winner with supporters of the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns demanding justice for sexual misconduct victims and fair treatment for women in the workplace.

Greta Gerwig’s solo feature directorial debut-a moving and authentic portrait of a volatile mother-daughter relationship-could see her become only the second woman ever to win the Oscar for best director.

‘Dunkirk’

Sweeping World War II epic “Dunkirk,” directed by Christopher Nolan, will have to pull off a feat almost as unlikely as the air and sea rescue it depicts to win best picture.

The tense retelling of the storied 1940 evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops from a beach in northern France, starring One Direction singer Harry Styles, is an outsider for the top prize going into Sunday.

It is in good shape however to take some of the technical Oscars for sound and film editing, as well as sound mixing.

‘Darkest Hour’

In many ways a companion piece to “Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour” follows the politics of the rescue at home-the machinations of the British government and the maneuvers of newly-anointed wartime leader Winston Churchill.

British actor Gary Oldman, who disappears entirely into the role of Churchill thanks to some convincing make-up and padding, is expected to bring home his first Oscar for best actor, although the movie is another outsider for best picture.

‘Call Me by Your Name’

James Ivory scooped the Writers Guild of America award for best adapted screenplay for his work transforming Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel “Call Me by Your Name” into the film of the same name, starring Timothee Chalamet.

Luca Guadagnino’s paean to the universal heartbreak of first love, set in northern Italy in the 1980s, has three nominations other than best picture-for Ivory’s screenplay, a best actor nod for Chalamet’s performance and best original song.

It burst into theaters before Christmas to critical acclaim-it currently boasts an average score of 8.7 out of 10 from 271 reviews collated by Rotten Tomatoes-but has lost momentum since and is seen as a long shot.

‘The Post’

Steven Spielberg’s celebration of journalism and the free press recounts the nail-biting behind-the-scenes story of the 1971 publication by The Washington Post of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed the lies behind US involvement in the Vietnam War.

It stars best actress nominee Meryl Streep as aristocratic Post publisher Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as the newspaper’s scrappy executive editor Ben Bradlee.

Not mentioned in the film but present between the lines on every page of the script is President Donald Trump, who has waged a vitriolic campaign against media outlets he believes are unfair to him.

‘Phantom Thread’

In a movie full of noteworthy performances, the most remarkable thing about this project is the fact that its towering, iconic star-triple Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis-says it will be his last.

One of the most acclaimed performers of his generation, the British-Irish method actor, 60, announced he would “no longer be acting” after reuniting with “There Will Be Blood” director Paul Thomas Anderson for the story about fashion in 1950s London.

Anderson’s tender but brutal story of the romance between a dressmaker and his muse is also up for best director and actor, best supporting actress for Lesley Manville, best score for Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and best costume design.

Reuters

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