How to Prioritize Your Oscar Week Movie-Cramming

Don’t look now, but the 88th Academy Awards are less than a week away. I know, right? There’s been so much about the Oscars to talk about – analyzing the nominees, tracking the civil wars within the Academy, following the bellwether prizes – it’s been easy to forget that they were actually going to give those out, eventually. Sunday, to be precise! But no worries, you’ve seen all the major nominees and are ready to cruise into your Oscar party like the expert you are, right?

Yeah, thought not. But no worries: as an annual public service, we’ve organized the 16 films nominated for the six major awards (Picture, Director, Actor/Actress, Supporting Actor/Actress) in order of short-term importance – based on probability of winning, overall quality, and ease of availability. Buckle down, folks; the weekend’ll be here before you know it.

1. Spotlight

No one can quite agree on the frontrunner for Best Picture this year, and the split between the usual predictors – SAG (Spotlight), PGA (The Big Short), BAFTA (The Revenant) – hasn’t helped. But Spotlight is certainly a strong contender, with six nominations (not only Picture, but Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, and Editing). Plus, it’s newly available on demand. And it’s great.

2. The Big Short

Adam McKay’s rowdy rundown of the financial crisis could very well take the big prize, however; its Producers Guild of America win is nothing to sneeze at (they’ve predicted the last eight straight Best Picture winners). At the very least, it’s a pretty sure thing for Best Adapted Screenplay, and it’s a decent movie to boot. And, bonus, it just hit VOD.

3. The Revenant

Revenant, on the other hand, still in its theatrical run, which means you’ll have to (gasp) venture out of the house to see it. But who knows, maybe it’ll be a harrowing journey through the cold, and someone will give you a prize for enduring it. But I kid. This wildly overpraised movie’s annoying promotional strategy clearly worked, resulting in a staggering 12 nominations. Iñárritu and company could take Best Picture (though the BAFTAs are hit-and-miss as a bellwether); they will almost definitely take Best Director (the only time the two awards haven’t matched up since 2002 was in 2012, when Argo’s Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for the Oscar) and Best Actor (though it’s one of his least interesting performances, DiCaprio is “due,” and he sure did work hard for it).

Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson in "Room"

4. Room

The wonderful Brie Larson is widely considered the frontrunner for Best Actress, thanks to previous wins from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the BAFTAs, and the National Board of Review. And the Academy seems to love the film quite a bit as well – with three other nominations, including a surprise nod for director Lenny Abrahamson. It’s a tough but powerful piece of work – and, look at that, available on demand just in time for the big show.

5. Creed

Another well-timed recent VOD release, for Ryan Coogler’s unexpectedly superb revitalization of the Rocky franchise. While this one didn’t rack up as many nominations as some lower films on this list (even though it certainly should’ve), Stallone is looking like a sure shot for Best Supporting Actor, with Golden Globe, National Board of Review, and Critics’ Choice Awards in the category. Everybody loves a good comeback story! And, for extra fun, you can puzzle over why Michael B. Jordan wasn’t nominated for Best Actor…

6. The Danish Girl

… when last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne was, for his twitchy, overdone turn in Tom Hooper’s biographical drama. But this to-the-balcony performance only underscores the naturalism and credibility of Alicia Vikander’s; she’s looking like the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress, though it’s more of a leading turn (I know, the scourge of category fraud), and could easily be seen as simultaneous recognition for her excellent supporting work in Ex Machina. At any rate, Danish Girl is available on demand. (And, for that matter, so is Ex Machina. Streaming free on Prime, in fact. Hey, it’s up for Best Original Screenplay!)

7. Carol

Because the world is an evil and unfair place, Todd Haynes’ masterful romance isn’t up for Best Picture or Best Director. And Cate Blanchett probably won’t win the Oscar (she’s already got two, after all, one of them from just a couple years back), and the film isn’t really favored in the other categories either. But Supporting Actress nominee Rooney Mara or Adapted Screenplay nominee Phyllis Nagy could pull an upset, maybe? Anyway, whatever, go see Carol, it’s better than most of the movies that were nominated over it.

Matt Damon in "The Martian"

8-9. Mad Max: Fury Road / The Martian

With (respectively) ten and seven nominations, George Miller’s Max sequel and Ridley Scott’s novel adaptation are the “popular” favorites – genre movies that got great reviews and did well at the box office. Neither will probably win any of the major awards, but they’ll probably both do well in the technical categories, and they’re both very good and awfully easy to see, so why not?

10. Brooklyn

John Crowley’s wonderful adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel is up for three Oscars – Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay – and it probably won’t win any of them, which is painful for me to admit because it was my favorite film of 2015. But yes, if you’re trying to prioritize based on impact and winners, sure, it’s probably pretty far down the list. Even so, it’ll be available on demand tomorrow. Just, y’know, if you have time. I’ll just leave this here. OK, that’s the last I’ll say about it.

11-12. Steve Jobs / Bridge of Spies

Neither Danny Boyle’s unconventional biopic nor Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller will probably win any big prizes, though both are worthy of consideration, for Best Actor (Jobs’ Michael Fassbender) and Best Supporting Actor (Spies’ Mark Rylance). And they’re both on demand (here and here), so they’re pretty easy to see, if you’ve got the time.

13-14. 45 Years / The Hateful Eight

Neither Andrew Haigh’s marital drama nor Quentin Tarantino’s nihilist Western will probably win any big prizes, though both are worthy of consideration, for Best Actress (Years’ Charlotte Rampling) and Best Supporting Actress (Eight’s Jennifer Jason Leigh). But they’re both still at the tail end of their theatrical engagements, so they’re not that easy to track down, so there you have it.

15. Trumbo

It’s only got one nomination – for Best Actor – and for good reason: it’s not very good. But it’s available on demand, so if you’ve made it this far and you want to be a completist, have at it.

16. Joy

It’s only got one nomination – for Best Actress – and for good reason: it’s not very good. And it’s not even on demand yet; if you want to be a completist, you’ll have to seek it out at a theater. Go with God.