How to Fake an Informed Conversation on the Oscars

Alison Syrett | January 14, 2016

After the nominees for the 88th annual Oscar Awards were announced, every dinner conversation probably involved some variation of this:

Oh my god, have you seen Carol?

Yes, but I like Joy much better.

Personally, I prefer Mad Max.

If you’re feeling bad for poor Carol right now and are intrigued by this angry Max fellow, you’re not alone: I, too, haven’t set foot in a movie theater since Inside Out was showing. (Don’t regret one second of it.) But there’s no reason the Cinema Cynthias in our lives need to know that. Below: a handy cheatsheet to cover some of this year’s biggest contenders and how to seamlessly incorporate each one into Oscar night small talk. (And a backup plan if you start to falter: This. Guaranteed to change the subject every time!)

First up, the best picture nods:

The Big Short

'The Big Short,' Image via YouTube

One Sentence Recap: Remember that miserable housing crisis in 2007? So that.

Talking Points: Perhaps the only time, like ever, you’ll witness Ryan Gosling looking unattractive. (Except for this slideshow.) Also, Steve Carell’s hair!

Bridge of Spies

'Bridge of Spies,' Image via IMDb

Two Sentence Recap: We have a Soviet spy, and they have an American one. Trades ensue.

Talking Points: Did Tom Hanks peak at Big?


'Brooklyn,' Photographed by Kerry Brown via The New Yorker

Two Sentence Recap: An Irish immigrant moves to America and falls in love with an Italian boy. Also learns how to properly eat spaghetti.

Talking Points: All the adorable accents and lead actress Saoirse Ronan. Everyone’s in love with her. (See below.)

Mad Max: Fury Road

'Mad Max: Fury Road,' Photographed by Jasin Boland via New York Post

Two Sentence Recap: A scary cult leader goes on a rampage looking for his escaped wives in a dessert apocalypse world. So really relatable.

Talking Points: The creepiest face mask to grace the big screen since Silence Of The Lambs.

The Martian

'The Martian,' Image via Fox Movies

Two Sentence Recap: Sort of like Home Alone, only the home part is Mars. And there’s no TV to play Angels With Filthy Souls.

Talking Points: Who handles space abandonment better: Matt Damon or Sandra Bullock?

The Revenant

'The Revenant,' Image via IMDb

Two Sentence Recap: When nineteenth century frontiersman Hugh Glass is attacked by a bear and left for dead by his hunting party, he’s rather displeased. Fear his wrath!

Talking Points: Is Leonardo’s beard better than Santa’s?


Image via Rolling Stone from A24 Films

Two Sentence Recap: It’s a heavy one — a kidnapped woman and her small son devise a way to escape captivity. Your heart will sit in your throat the whole time.

Talking Points: The plot line is loosely based on a true story.


'Spotlight,' Photographed by Kerry Hayes via Vanity Fair

Two Sentence Recap: Scrappy reporters fight to shed light on scandal in the Catholic church. On a lighter note, Matt Flamhaff is in it!

Talking Points: It’s another one inspired by real life. Perhaps another round of drinks?

Now let’s get into the players. The women:

Brie Larson


Nominated For: Room

Fun Fact: Her very first gig was a Barbie commercial spoof on Jay Leno: She poured mud all over the dolls, and watched their little head pops off. [Indie Wire]

Cate Blanchett

Image via IMDb

Nominated For: Carol

Fun Fact: For her first ever role in a film, she was paid in falafel and two Egyptian pounds. [YouTube]

Saoirse Ronan

Image via New York Post from TIFF

Nominated For: Brooklyn

Fun Fact: She’s fully trained in martial arts and tells every talk show host that her name is pronounced “Seer-sha, like inertia.” [MTV]

Jennifer Lawrence

Image via YouTube

Nominated For: Joy

Fun Fact: Back in the day, she modeled for Abercrombie & Fitch. [E! Online]

Charlotte Rampling

Photographed by Agatha A Nitecka via The Telegraph

Nominated For: 45 Years

Fun Fact: The Ring, a popular video game from the ‘90s, features her voiceover as the character Erda. [IMBD]

The guys:

Leonardo DiCaprio

Image via YouTube

Nominated For: The Revenant

Fun Fact: He bought an island off the coast of Belize last year with intent to build an eco-friendly resort. Leo — friend to the camera and the earth! [The Huffington Post]

Bryan Cranston

Image via YouTube

Nominated For: Trumbo

Fun Fact: Before acting, he worked as a carny. [Life Daily]

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender in 'Steve Jobs,' Image via IMDb

Nominated For: Steve Jobs

Fun Fact: His last name is the German word for “cooper,” or someone who repairs barrels. [IMBD]

Eddie Redmayne

Eddie Redmayne. Nominated For: 'The Danish Girl.' Fun Fact: Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” is his go-to karaoke song. (Um, why has video proof not surfaced on YouTube yet?) (Eddie Redmayne in 'The Danish Girl,' Image via Focus Features from YouTube)

Nominated For: The Danish Girl

Fun Fact: Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” is his go-to karaoke song. (Um, why has video proof not surfaced on YouTube yet?) [People]

Matt Damon

Matt Damon in 'The Martian,' Image via IMDb

Nominated For: The Martian

Fun Fact: Not only can he break dance, but did it for money in Harvard Square as a teenager. [People]

Okay now you’ve got all the knowledge — go drop it!


  • lol these recap’s are great and should come in handy as I have not seen a single one of these movies!

  • Amelia Diamond

    Another thing (very important thing) that you can talk about whether you’ve seen the movies or not and never plan to: almost all the nominations are white –

    • If you haven’t watched any of the movies, this piece of information you’ve just provided Amelia will certainly deceive people into think you have! One can even reference the NYT article you’ve just linked.

    • All the director nominees are men this year, too – so if you’re in the right crowd, go to town on that too!

  • Natty

    cate blanchett is everything

  • Wow I’m so behind in my movie going!! I haven’t seen any of these yet!!

  • I’ll admit I’ve only seen one of these films so far (Mad Max: Fury Road). This is the problem with being married to a man-child who would rather watch superhero movies.

    Perhaps I’ll sneak out of the house to watch one this weekend, while the man-child is distracted with the NFL playoffs. *insert evil laugh here*

    God, my life is so lame.

  • Amazing. This was very informative & I liked the two sentence recaps. Great for my short attention span…lolz ??

  • Patrizia Korn

    Hi. Fassb”i”nder would be the german word for cooper. Maybe he changed the i to an e?

    • Alison Syrett

      Hi Patrizia! According to my research, apparently “Fassbender” is just another variant of “Fassbinder.” I do not know the nuances of German, but maybe this is a similar situation to “glamour” vs. “glamor” or “yogurt” vs. “yoghurt” in English?