Everything You Need To Know About The Best Picture Nominees

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The Oscars are rapidly approaching, and if there’s one category you should be well-versed in, it’s Best Picture. That said, we know finding time to watch nine whole movies is difficult, especially when This Is Us and The Bachelor are still on. If you haven’t had time to watch each of the nine nominations this year, fret not. We’ll give you the gist, talking points, and odds of winning for each movie, in case you’re planning on making any bets. Hint: go for La La Land.
Here are the study materials you need to fake your way through an Oscar viewing party.
1 of 9

The Gist: What this movie about a gay man growing up in a rough part of the city lacks in plot, it makes up for in sheer emotional depth. And trust us — having already won a Golden Globe for Best Picture, Moonlight is a top contender in the Oscars race. Moonlight peers into the life of Chiron, a Black, gay man, at three different moments in his coming of age. While dealing with proximity to the drug trade and an abusive and addicted mother, Chiron also comes to terms with his sexuality in internal, abstract ways.

Let the Critics Speak

"Moonlight is both a disarmingly, at times almost unbearably personal film and an urgent social document, a hard look at American reality and a poem written in light, music and vivid human faces."

—A.O. Scott, The New York Times

"I doubt that I will see a better film than Moonlight this year."

—Mark Kermode, Observer (UK)

Odds of Winning: If the Academy's voters resists the urge to vote for a Hollywood-centric movie, then Moonlight has a very good shot at an Oscar.
2 of 9

The Gist: Amy Adams plays a linguist at a university whose job takes on sudden importance when she has to decode an alien language. The Heptapods, as humans name the aliens, speak in sounds that resemble whale song. But can Amy Adams' Louise make contact before humanity's protective instinct takes over, and they take action against the incomers? Following in the tracks of movies like Gravity and Interstellar that push the science fiction envelope, Arrival is just as much about human communication as it is about extra-terrestrials.

Let the Critics Speak

"A twisty, cerebral drama that just happens to involve aliens, Denis Villeneuve's film is a truly beguiling take on both the sci-fi canon and what, exactly, a grown-up Hollywood film is supposed to be."

—Barry Hertz,

"Arrival, like the Spielberg classic it aspires to, brings the beyond to us. In doing so, it asks a challenging, prescient question: Are we ready to teach, and ready to learn?"

—Andrew Lapin, NPR

Odds of Winning: We’d tell you, but we forgot our alien dictionary.
3 of 9

The Gist: Troy Maxson is forever haunted by being shut out from a baseball career because of his race, and his bitterness affects each of his charged interactions with his wife and son. Since Fences is adapted from an August Wilson play, much of its action is confined to the Maxon household. In this small orbit, a larger-than-life figure threatens to crowd out his family's capacity for independence.

Let the Critics Speak

"The two lead performances are stunningly complex and deeply human achievements from two of the finest actors working today."

—Kate Walsh, Tribune News Service

"It's not cinematic enough to make you forget you're watching something conceived for another, more spatially constricted medium, but it's too cinematic to capture the intensity, the concentration, of a great theatrical event."

—David Edelstein, New York Magazine

Odds of Winning: Like a baseball hit you’re sure is going to go out of the park, but doesn’t quite make it, Fences will miss a win.
4 of 9

The Gist: Starring Dev Patel, Lion tells the unfathomable true story of a five-year-old boy who becomes separated from his family in India. As an adult in Australia, Saroo uses Google Earth to track his family down again. The brutal sequence of five-year-old Saroo lost in Mumbai will affect anyone briefly separated from her parents in a mall. Towing the line between heartbreaking and unbelievable, Lion doesn't shy away from exploring guilt, parenthood, and the sad reality that sometimes, those who wander really do get lost.

The Critics Speak

"Lion celebrates the human will and the human need to find meaning and connection in life. If the final scenes don't have you blubbering, your humanity may need some fine-tuning."

—Tirdad Derakhshani, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Lion has one of those plot lines that feels like a Hollywood screenplay - except it actually happened."

—Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times

Odds of Winning: The number of hours it took Saroo to find his family on Google, divided by the number of times we sniffled during the reunion scene.
5 of 9
Manchester by the Sea

The Gist: In this plodding, dark film, Casey Affleck plays a sullen loner pulled back to his hometown to care for his nephew after his brother dies. Instead of bawling at funerals, grief is displayed through fissures in the routine and the way life persists after loss.

Let the Critics Speak

"It's painful and tragic, yet it's cut with elements of humor and laughter. Just like life."

—Adam Graham, Detroit News

"The sadness of Manchester by the Sea is the kind of sadness that makes you feel more alive, rather than less, to the preciousness of things."

—Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Odds of Winning: Seven out of ten Kleenex tissues you used while seeing the movie.
6 of 9
La La Land

The Gist: Let's get real: who hasn't heard about La La Land, the musical that's swept America off its feet? In this movie, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play two dreamers in L.A. who tap-dance their way to love, while ambitiously pursuing their diverging career paths. It's a movie about love and dreams colliding with reality, sprinkled with nostalgia and the magic of Old Hollywood.

Let the Critics Speak

"Chazelle has reinvigorated the big-screen musical by embracing the present while paying tribute to the past, by balancing irony and innocence, novelty and nostalgia."

—Christopher Orr, The Atlantic

"La La Land is a special, special experience, and movies like this don't come around too often."

—Adam Graham, Detroit News

Odds of Winning: Golden Globes + BAFTA + tap dancing = recipe for a win.
7 of 9
Hell or High Water

The Gist: In this Western heist, two brothers with difficult histories unite to rob a bank set to foreclose their family land.

Let the Critics Speak

"Just as it taps into a dying corner of American society, Hell or High Water resurrects the power of western mayhem done right."

—Eric Kohn, indieWire

"Hell or High Water is set up like a cops and robbers drama, but it plays out like a complicated western — no black-hats-and-white-hats simplicity here. It's all moral shades of grey."

—Liz Braun, Toronto Sun

Odds of Winning: We’d tell you if we’d seen it. Thus, we can only assure you that Chris Pine's piercing gaze is on full (and glorious) display.
8 of 9
Hidden Figures

The Gist: Based on a book of the same title, Hidden Figures tells the true story of a team of Black women mathematicians who were instrumental launching astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Despite starting their careers during segregation and encountering discrimination in their personal and professional lives, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan established themselves as brilliant mathematical minds. This uplifting movie celebrates this overlooked trio, hidden no longer.

Let the Critics Speak

"Hidden Figures doesn't try to push many artistic boundaries, but it tells its story so well that it doesn't really have to."

—Lenika Cruz, The Atlantic

"The film hews closely to the facts in important respects, and evokes the outrages of the Jim Crow era, as well as the feverish competition of the space race, through the fascinating work of its extraordinary heroines."

—Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

Odds of Winning: One doesn’t need a job at NASA to calculate these odds. Good movie, but not going to win.
9 of 9
Hacksaw Ridge

The Gist: Real-life Superman Desmond Doss saved the lives of 75 soldiers in WWII without firing a single shot, and has Hacksaw Ridge (and a Medal of Honor) to prove it. Garnering a reputation for being extremely violent, the film doesn't shy away from portraying the realities of the Okinawa battlefield. While having a fairly traditional plotline, Hacksaw Ridge's originality breathed life into a genre that's been done many times before.

Let the Critics Speak

"Gibson has made a movie that's nearly pathological in its love of violence-but he nonetheless counterbalances its amoral pleasures with an understanding of the psychological devastation that war wreaks."

—Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"Impassioned patriotism and religious conviction constitute the core of Hacksaw Ridge, a stirring — and surpassingly violent — dramatization of the life of Desmond T. Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor."

—Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

Odds of Winning: The allied forces fought their way to victory, but we don't foresee Hacksaw Ridge doing the same.

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