A Slacker's Guide to the Oscars

We know you haven't seen 'Nightmare Alley' yet, and we’re here for you

Chiabella James/Warner Bros.
Fake It 'Til You Make It

The Oscars — cinema’s biggest night. Every year Hollywood’s best and brightest turn out in borrowed couture to celebrate what are, allegedly, the best films of the year. However there are a few films that slip into the race each year that disappear from the cultural memory as soon as the ceremony ends.

Recent entrants into this distinguished tradition include Lion, The Post, Mank, Hacksaw Ridge, and Brooklyn. All of those movies have their fans, but are you one of them? I dare you to find someone who has rewatched Darkest Hour since their hurried rush to see all of the Best Picture nominees in 2018.

It’s hard to see every nominated film before Oscar night, and I am here to tell you that you do not have to. But perhaps you still want to be included in the conversation. Maybe you’re going to an Oscars party and don’t want to look like the only idiot in the room who hasn’t seen King Richard. Well, you’re in luck. Because my brain has been poisoned by Big Cinema, I have seen all the movies you might have missed. That means that I can tell you what they’re about, and what you can say to make yourself seem like someone who checks GoldDerby every day.


The Gist: Do not get mad at me for including this on here, I know I’m right. In recent weeks, CODA has shot ahead as a major contender for Best Picture, with the Producers Guild, Screen Actors Guild, Writers Guild, and several critics associations bestowing their top honors to the film. Somehow it even won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Independent Motion Picture. I will not fault you for not having seen it, though. It’s a small indie movie on Apple TV+, and if it weren’t for the company’s major awards push, you probably wouldn’t know it existed.

Here is a very brief synopsis: The hearing daughter of two deaf parents has dreams of becoming a singer, but feels tied to her family and their fishing business. It is a perfectly nice movie. Spoiler: They work it out, and the film culminates in a very touching scene where the daughter sings “Both Sides Now” at her college audition and signs the lyrics to her family.

Your Line: If you want to be a bitch, you can say, “It’s a perfectly nice movie. A little saccharine for my liking; It’s definitely not the best movie of the year, though,” and then start talking about Power of the Dog.

If you want to come in a little cooler, you should just say that you love Troy Kotsur as the dad in the movie, and that the scene where he touches his daughter’s neck to feel her sing made you cry.

Nightmare Alley

The Gist: Guillermo Del Toro’s latest premiered during peak Omicron, which — when paired with a fairly weak marketing campaign — meant that almost no one saw it. It’s now on HBO Max, so it’s definitely accessible, but it’s also two-and-a-half hours long and you only have so many days before the Oscars/on this earth.

Bradley Cooper plays a con-man who starts out as a mentalist in a carnival and then makes it big as a psychic medium in the second adaptation of William Lindsay Graham’s novel (the first was in 1947). It is, like the Oscars themselves, about hubris.

Your Line: This movie has so much plot that tasking you with saying anything about it would be irresponsible. Too many possibilities for follow-up questions. Instead, talk about the film’s Oscar nominations:

“That production design!”

“Did you know that Bradley Cooper has been Oscar-nominated nine times and four of them are for producing?”

Then you can make your conversation partner guess what those four are, and really take in the moment when they forget that he produced Joker.


The Gist: Once the favorite for Best Picture, Belfast is the entry on this list most likely to never be thought of again. Kenneth Branagh’s black-and-white semi-autobiographical film about his time as a boy in Northern Ireland at the beginning of The Troubles is… fine. It is better than most movies, but lots of bad movies get released every year.

Your Line: Lucky for you, the only people who have seen Belfast are critics and your parents. Just say, “My mom loved it,” and the person you are talking to will probably say, “Same.”

If you want to fly closer to the sun, you can steal my line, which is: “I didn’t really get Jamie Dornan until this movie. I could watch him sing ‘Everlasting Love’ for two straight hours.”

King Richard

The Gist: This movie will probably be remembered as the one that won Will Smith his Oscar. That is a shame, because he is probably the fourth best performance in the movie. Starring as Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, Smith has been a lock for Best Actor for months, even after he admitted to puking after sex.

Your Line: The King Richard Oscar run has basically been the Will Smith Show, but there are lots of other things you could say that would make it seem like you’ve actually seen the movie (which now requires paying real American dollars to rent, as it is not streaming anywhere). You can say, “It gets really good when it becomes a movie about Venus Williams instead of her dad,” or, “That score is really incredible,” or “Jon Bernthal with a mustache and a Midwestern accent, aWOOOga.”

Being the Ricardos

The Gist: You may have heard of the man who wrote and directed this movie. His name is Aaron Sorkin, and he is wanted for his crimes against filmmaking in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. This real-life story about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is not nominated for Best Picture, but three of its actors are up for awards (tellingly, its screenplay isn’t). You might end up in a conversation with someone who thinks that Nicole Kidman was great in this movie, and I’m sorry you will have to listen to that, but I have something prepared for you.

Your Line: Unfortunately, you must get into a banter-y back-and-forth with someone that touches on five different topics in the span of two minutes and that climaxes with you saying, “Cut the crap,” and then taking a deep, exasperated breath and saying, “Aaron Sorkin is not a director!” Then you will have to get J. Edgar Hoover on the phone to explain that you are actually a good person.