Your Cheat Sheet to the 2016 Oscars

Because there are just too many movies, we watched the films nominated (and snubbed) in the biggest Academy Award categories for you. Consider this your cheat sheet on what to watch before the big night.

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The Big Short

Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt
Nominations: 5, including Best Picture and Best Directing
Genres: Drama, Biography
Runtime: 130 mins.
Synopsis: Four men in the financial world predict the mid-2000’s housing bubble and credit collapse early, and bet against the big banks.
Why Watch: Fans of Michael Lewis books should see this one, though it is missing the inherent entertainment associated with sports stories that The Blind Side and Moneyball benefited from. Warning: Even with celebrities like Gordon Ramsay and Selena Gomez around to explain the more difficult financial concepts, this one might be hard to follow if you have no interest in finance.

Bridge of Spies

Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda
Nominations: 6, including Best Picture
Genres: Biography, Drama, Political thriller
Runtime: 142 mins.
Synopsis: During the Cold War, Brooklyn lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) is recruited to defend Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance) against espionage charges and later works with the CIA to facilitate the exchange of Abel for American spy Francis Gary Powers.
Why Watch: Donovan’s sheer moxie and determination to do the right thing make him easy to root for. Based on true events, Bridge of Spies is a fascinating take on the political tensions between the United States and Russia during the Cold War.


Director: John Crowley
Starring: Saoirse Ronnan, Emroy Cohen, Domhnall Gleesom
Nominations: 3, including Best Picture and Best Actress in a Leading Role (Ronan)
Genres: Drama, Romance
Runtime: 111 mins.
Synopsis: In 1950s Brooklyn, an Irish immigrant falls in love with an Italian man. But when she is unexpectedly called back home, her future becomes more uncertain than ever.
Why Watch: This is the one for anyone who likes a good romance. It’s an interesting look at the immigrant experience but, above all, it is a love story (in more ways than one).


Director: Todd Haynes
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler
Nominations: 6, including Best Actress in a Leading Role (Blanchett)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Runtime: 118 mins.
Synopsis: In 1952, an amateur photographer meets a woman in the midst of a divorce who inspires her to begin a journey toward self-discovery.
Why Watch: It’s tempting to label this an LBGTQ film, but it’s really just the story of two women struggling to figure out what they want in life, who happen to help each other along the way. If forbidden affairs intrigue you, watch it.


Director: Peter Landesman
Starring: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks
Nominations: 0
Genres: Biography, Drama, Sport
Runtime: 123 mins.
Synopsis: Pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith) publishes findings on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition he finds after performing autopsies on American football players in Pittsburgh who had suffered multiple concussions.
Why Watch: Don’t let the snub fool you; Concussion is an important movie. Anyone with an interest in American business politics should watch this. Professional football is a big business in this country and this film depicts the grim realities of life when the game ends.


Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Nominations: Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Sylvester Stallone (snubbed in the four main categories)
Genres: Drama, Sport
Runtime: 133 mins.
Synopsis: Rocky Balboa (Stallone) trains Adonis Johnson (Jordan), son of his former rival Apollo Creed.
Why Watch:  A classic sports tale of an underdog with something to prove.

The Danish Girl

Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard
Nominations: 4, including Best Actor in a Leading Role (Redmayne) and Best Actress in a Leading Role (Vikander)
Genres: Drama, Romance, Biography
Runtime: 119 mins.
Synopsis: Based on a novel loosely inspired by the lives of Danish painters Lilli Elbie (Redmayne) and Gerta Wegener (Vikander), this film depicts the evolution of the partners’ marriage and careers in 1920s Denmark, as Lilli discovers her transgender identity.
Why Watch: For fans of period films and those interested in the early struggles of the transgender community, The Danish Girl offers a unique view at the medical and psychological fields in the 1920s.


Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper
Nominations: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Lawrence)
Genres: Drama, Comedy
Runtime: 124 mins.
Synopsis: A divorced Long Island mother of two with big ideas invents a mop that inspires the launch of the family business that will forever change her life.
Why Watch: A relatable, funny portrayal of the modern American family, anyone who roots for the underdog, or enjoys a rags-to-riches story will like Joy.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Nominations: 10, including Best Picture and Best Directing
Genres: Science fiction, Action, Adventure, Drama
Runtime: 120 mins.
Synopsis: Set in Australia following a nuclear holocaust, Imperator Furiosa (Theron), a lieutenant of the tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Kaeys-Bryne), rebels against his regime and frees the five wives he keeps as “breeders.” While trying to escape the oppressive regime, the women meet “Mad Max” Rockatansky (Hardy), who had been imprisoned by Joe and kept as a blood supply for a “war boy.” The unlikely crew teams up to race to freedom.
Why Watch: It’s hard to follow if you don’t know the backstory but not impossible. If you like science fiction and action/adventure films, this one is for you. It’s essentially the story of one very long car chase, but it’s refreshing to see a woman action hero portrayed as equal to her male counterpart.

The Martian

Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig
Nominations: 7, including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Damon)
Genres: Sci-Fi, Adventure, Drama
Runtime: 144 mins.
Synopsis: NASSA astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is presumed dead and left behind by his crew when a storm hits Mars. Alone on the planet, he must figure out how to communicate with Earth and survive long enough to be rescued.
Why Watch: The Martian is not officially characterized as a comedy, but it should be. Watney’s sarcasm and general determined spirit are what sets this film apart from other space films.

The Revenant

Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter
Nominations: 12, including Best Picture, Best Directing, and Best Actor in a Leading Role (DiCaprio)
Genres: Drama, Adventure, Thriller
Runtime: 156 mins.
Synopsis: Inspired by true events, frontiersman Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is left to die by his men after being near-fatally attacked by a bear during a fur trading expedition in the 1820s. What follows is a tale of survival, war, and revenge.
Why Watch: Slow at times because DiCaprio’s character spends a lot of time alone, it is emotionally draining to watch Glass struggle to survive against ruthless animals and unforgiving nature. Not for the faint of heart.


Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay
Nominations: 4, including Best Picture, Best Directing, and Best Actress in a Leading Role (Larson)
Genres: Drama
Runtime: 118 mins.
Synopsis: Adapted from the 2010 novel, 5-year-old Jack (Tremblay) and his Ma (Larson) devise a plan to escape the room they’ve been held captive in for Jack’s whole life, so that he can discover the world he thought only existed inside of a television.
Why Watch: Fans of Emma Donoghue’s novel will not be disappointed.


Director: Tim McCarthy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachael McAdams
Genres: Biography, Drama, History
Nominations: 6, including Best Picture and Best Directing
Runtime: 128 mins
Synopsis: In the mid-2000s, the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting team, Spotlight, uncovered a child molestation scandal within the local Catholic archdiocese. Based on true events.
Why Watch: We already told you this was the film of the year. If you still haven’t watched it, we’re telling you to do so immediately. It is a fascinating look at the politics of breaking news and the power one story has to expose what eventually became a worldwide scandal.

Steve Jobs

Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
Nominations: 2, including Best Actor in a Leading Role (Fassbender)
Genre: Biography, Drama
Runtime: 122 mins.
Synopsis: Using three of his product launches as framework, Steve Jobs tells the story of one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the information technology business. Backstage at these events, Jobs (Fassbender) is forced to confront his failures as a businessman, friend and father.
Why Watch: Examine Steve Jobs’ relationships and eccentricities through an examination of his product launches. Plus, Fassbender and Winslet have undeniable chemistry.

Straight Outta Compton

Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr. Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell
Genres: Drama, Biography
Nominations: Best Original Screenplay (Snubbed in the acting and directing categories)
Runtime: 147 mins.
Synopsis: The story of how the rap group N.W.A (Easy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Run, DJ Yella and Arabian Prince) came off the streets of Compton, CA to revolutionize the world of hip-hop.
Why Watch: This isn’t just for fans of N.W.A. Anyone who enjoys a good drama needs to see this story of an underdog and the realities of fame and racism.


Director: Jay Roach
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren
Nominations: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Cranston)
Genres: Drama, Biography
Runtime: 124 mins
Synopsis: The true story of Dalton Trumbo (Cranston), a top Hollywood screenwriter until 1947, when he and other members of “The Hollywood 10” were jailed and eventually blacklisted in the business.
Why Watch: Lovers of old Hollywood will appreciate the struggles American screenwriters faced at home during the Cold War and in its aftermath.

45 Years

Director: Andrew Haigh
Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay
Nominations: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Rampling)
Genres: Drama, Romance
Runtime: 95 mins
Synopsis: Days before celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, a couple receives news that forces them to confront events in their past that they’ve suppressed for most of their marriage.
Why Watch: If you study or appreciate the art of acting, give 45 Years a shot. Otherwise, skip it… Unless the idea of watching a couple struggle with the past for an hour and a half appeals to you.

esme mazzeo

Esme Mazzeo is a freelance writer and T.V. junkie who enjoys writing arts, culture, and lifestyle pieces. Follow her on Twitter @EsmeMazzeo