I get it. Not all of us see three movies a week, read reviews in the Times, and debate narrative integrity over drinks. That doesn't mean, come Sunday night, you have to feel intimidated by the gradour of it all. The Academy Awards are for everyone; like the Super Bowl, but with better outfits. My favorite way to celebrate the year in film is to pop popcorn, change into pajamas (it's a long night), and fill out a ballot. Debatably the most anticipated, potentially controversial (hi, Moonlight!) part of the night comes at the very end: The Best Picture. If you can't see every indie or have a rock solid opinion on sound mixing, you should at least familiarize yourself with every film in this category. Consider this your cheat sheet.
One Sentence Summary: Winston Churchill rallying a nation and changing the course of history, that's all.
Buzzwords to expect: underestimated, Gary Oldman, the "Old Academy" of voters
Watch if you liked: Lincoln, The Crown, Hacksaw Ridge
One Sentence Summary: Katharine Graham and her relentless team at The Washington Post work against The New York Times in attempt to uncover four presidencies worth of secrets.
Buzzwords to expect: first amendment, important, Streep & Hanks
Watch if you liked: Spotlight, The Paper, All the President's Men
Call My By Your Name
One Sentence Summary: Elio, age 17, meets Oliver, graduate student, and an impossible passion is born on the coast of Italy.
Buzzwords to expect: dreamy, heart-breaking, devastatingly nostologic
Watch if you liked: By The Sea, Moonlight, A Bigger Splash
One Sentence Summary: The complex, haunting life of dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock in 1950s London.
Buzzwords to expect: gothic, Daniel Day-Lewis acting retirement, masterpiece
Watch if you liked: Jane Eyre, Funny Face
One Sentence Summary: Coming of age in all its awkward, relatable glory, told from the perspective of Sacramento high school senior, Lady Bird.
Buzzwords to expect: brilliant, attention to detail, directorial debut
Watch if you liked: Frances Ha, 20th Century Women, The Virgin Suicides
One Sentence Summary: The complexities of war are explored in this gripping film on The Battle of Dunkirk, featuring the perspectives of those in the air, on the beach, and at sea.
Buzzwords to expect: harrowing, Nolan's first historical film, summer
Watch if you liked: Defiance, The Pianist, Gravity
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
One Sentence Summary: Three signs are painted on the road into town by the mother of a murdered teenage girl, a direct call to action for the town's chief of police.
Buzzwords to expect: dramedy, Awards-upsetter, impactful
Watch if you liked: Fargo
One Sentence Summary: Rose brings her boyfriend, Chris, home to meet her parents and what starts as uncomfortable changes quickly into the unimaginable.
Buzzwords to expect: horror/satire, smart, packed with weighty imagery
Watch if you liked: The Silence of the Lambs, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Enemy
The Shape of Water
One Sentence Summary: The swirling, improbable love story of a mute cleaning lady and an unnamable creature from worlds away.
Buzzwords to expect: bizarre, genius, fable
Watch if you like: Her, Beauty and The Beast