This year has been an unusually rich season for prestige awards contenders, kicking off as early as the Sundance Film Festival in January when Lee Daniels’ Precious (then called Push) was first seen as well as Lone Scherfig’s An Education, Cary Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre and Oren Moverman’s The Messenger.

And nobody could have predicted how some of the biggest blockbusters of the summer would end up playing all the way to the end of the year. Up, Star Trek, The Hangover, Inglourious Basterds and District 9 were among the best reviewed films of the year, while Julie & Julia was a hit for grown-ups and The Hurt Locker was a strong specialised performer.

As Venice and Toronto unleashed a whole swathe of new films, the year was already looking crowded. Even after end-of-year releases such as The Lovely Bones, Nine and Invictus had been seen, critics and voters were in for another surprise when Fox started screening James Cameron’s Avatar.

Nobody doubted the sci-fi epic would play well to audiences, but its ground-breaking visual effects and spectacle helped position it as a last-minute frontrunner for awards.

Screen’s Best Picture issue looks at 22 films which have the legs to make it through the awards season and secure one of the coveted 10 best picture Oscar nominations.

We assess the story so far and each film’s chances, while talking to 10 of the directors about how they got their visions to screen.

Best picture contenders

Film-maker profiles