HOLLYWOOD: From a superhero blockbuster to an offbeat royal comedy of manners to an intimate black-and-white ode to 1970s Mexico City, the contenders for this year’s best picture Oscar are as varied as ever.
Here is a brief summary of the eight films vying for the most prestigious prize at Sunday’s Oscars ceremony:
Director Ryan Coogler took Hollywood by storm with his take on Marvel’s “Black Panther,” a visually stunning film about a mythical, hidden, technologically advanced African kingdom called Wakanda.
The title character is also known as T’Challa, the heir to Wakanda’s throne who takes over as king when his father is assassinated.
But he is challenged by Killmonger, a US black ops soldier with nefarious intentions who also happens to be T’Challa’s cousin.
The film earned an impressive seven nominations overall, and made history by becoming the first comic book film to win a best picture nomination. It won top honours at the Screen Actors Guild awards for best ensemble cast.
Is this Spike Lee’s year?
The veteran director turned out a blistering drama based on the real-life tale of a black cop in Colorado who decides to try to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan with the help of his white partner.
The film — which earned six nominations — stars John David Washington (son of two-time Oscar winner Denzel) as Ron Stallworth and Oscar nominee Adam Driver as his partner Flip Zimmerman.
“BlacKkKlansman” unfolds in the 1970s, but the film ends with images of rallies in Charlottesville two years ago, becoming a searing indictment of divisions in today’s America.
Lee has notoriously been denied on Oscars night, including a snub 30 years ago for his seminal work “Do The Right Thing.” While he has an honorary Oscar, he has never won a competitive Academy Award.
The biopic about legendary Queen frontman Freddie Mercury earned lacklustre reviews when it opened, but its surprise inclusion — and wins — at the Golden Globes in January propelled it into Oscars contention.
Rami Malek is a top contender for best actor for his portrayal of Mercury, and critics have especially hailed his strutting, pitch perfect recreation of the band’s iconic Live Aid performance in 1985.
The film, which earned a total of five nominations, did not escape scandal — it was directed by Bryan Singer, who is facing a raft of sexual misconduct allegations, some of them involving teenage boys.
Singer was fired shortly before “Bohemian Rhapsody” wrapped, and has not been involved or even mentioned during the film’s awards season campaigns. But his name remains in the movie’s credits.
A film with a decidedly female perspective has not won best picture since “Million Dollar Baby” in 2005 and “The Favourite” would be a welcome way to break that streak.
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos hired a trio of powerhouse actresses — Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone — to bring to life his feminist reimagining of the life and reign of Britain’s Queen Anne.
Colman plays the ailing, paranoid monarch, while Weisz plays her best friend, advisor and (in the film) lover Lady Sarah, and Stone appears as Abigail, Sarah’s distant cousin looking to move up at court.
What ensues is a dark, farcical yet affecting look at a queen in turmoil, who falls victim to her scheming female companions. It earned 10 nominations, tying with “Roma,” and all three women got Oscar nods.
Can a classical black pianist and a rough-and-ready Italian-American bouncer-turned-driver become friends in the 1960s as they travel through the segregated Deep South? “Green Book” says yes.
The civil rights dramedy, based on the real-life experiences of musician Don Shirley and Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, is running behind “Roma” in most Oscar predictions for best picture honors.
The movie — which explores race relations and questions about identity — soars thanks to its lead actors Viggo Mortensen (Vallelonga) and Mahershala Ali (Shirley), who are both Oscar nominees.
It endured its fair share of criticism and controversy, including over whether it is the latest in a stream of “white savior” movies, but the stars and the film’s team have vigorously defended it.
Alfonso Cuaron’s love letter to his childhood — and the two women who guided him, his mother and his nanny — has been the overwhelming favourite to win the top prize on Sunday.
If it does win, it will be the first foreign-language film to do so, and the first best picture winner for streaming giant Netflix.
“Roma” tells the story of an indigenous woman named Cleo — played by first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio — who works as a housekeeper and nanny for a middle-class family in Mexico City during the 1970s.
The movie, shot in a mixture of Spanish and the indigenous Mixtec language, is a personal triumph for Cuaron, already an Oscar winner for best director in 2014 for space epic “Gravity.”
‘A Star Is Born’
At the start of Hollywood’s awards season, “A Star Is Born” looked like the natural leading contender.
The retelling of a classic Tinseltown tale — an addicted singer on the wane, a young ingenue on the rise and their doomed love affair in the balance — had Oscars gold written all over it.
It had mega-star power in actor-director Bradley Cooper and co-star Lady Gaga. It enjoyed massive success at the box office. Critics loved it. So what happened?
Despite earning eight nominations, Oscarologists see the film as a lock for best original song (“Shallow”) but not for much else.
Adam McKay brought his offbeat sense of satire to the life of former US vice president Dick Cheney for “Vice,” charting the rise of George W. Bush’s veep from Montana to the West Wing.
Christian Bale earned widespread praise for disappearing under extra pounds and a mountain of make-up into the role — and earned a Golden Globe and a Bafta for his efforts.
Bale, along with co-stars Amy Adams (Cheney’s wife Lynne) and Sam Rockwell (Bush), received Oscar nominations, but the film’s mixed reviews stalled its awards campaign for the bigger prizes.