For many casual moviegoers, watching the Oscars is akin to being a baseball nut who shows up to a Super Bowl party. There are often so many unfamiliar faces, names and films that Hollywood’s biggest night essentially becomes an exercise in patience: When will we finally get to the one category where I have a good sense of who deserves to win?
It’s likely why the halftime show and the advertisements have taken on a major role in the Super Bowl broadcast. No matter what you know about the two teams — or the basic rules of the game — everyone feels comfortable chirping in on what was the funniest ad, or the most embarrassing moment of the over the top halftime production. When it comes to the Oscars, though, there’s nothing of the sort: Apart from a monologue, it’s a long, hard, three-hour slog through technical categories and art house nominees. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but for those partygoers who have only seen a dozen films over the course of the past year, Oscar night can be an intimidating affair indeed.
(MORE: Who Will Win? Richard Corliss predicts this year’s Oscar winners)
But never fear: In a bid to keep you in top Oscar form, TIME has assembled 7 quick and easy talking points that should serve you well Sunday night:
1. During the Opening Credits:
“I want to see how the heck Billy Crystal works Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close into his opening montage”
One day after Eddie Murphy bowed out of hosting the Academy Awards last November, Billy Crystal agreed to step into the top spot, returning to the show for the first time since 2004. More than a few pundits are wondering how he’ll deal with 9/11 film Extremely Loud in his traditional opening monologues, which tend to include video mashups in which he spoofs all the best picture nominees.
2. During Best Supporting Actress (typically the night’s first award):
“You know who got snubbed here: That teenager from The Descendants. She stole the show from Clooney!”
Her name is Shailene Woodley, and out of all the young actresses to get their big-screen breaks in 2011, her moving turn as a rebellious, heartbroken daughter mourning the passing of her mother had many thinking she was a sure bet for the Best Supporting Actress category. That said, she’s only one of several snubs worth mentioning during the ceremony. Here are four other biggies:
3. During the Best Picture Tributes:
“You know why there’s only 9 best picture nominees this year…”
Every Oscar night, shortly after they start handing out statues, producers roll out the sizzle reels from the year’s best picture nominees — offering home viewers a not-quite-helpful, thirty-second snapshot of the films vying for the top award. Here’s a good time to slip in your expert knowledge of the Academy process: Last June, the Academy announced a new rule governing the number of best picture contenders. To qualify for the nomination, the film had to receive at least 5% of “first place” votes during the initial nominating process, meaning there could be anywhere between five and ten best picture hopefuls, depending on how evenly the vote was split. This year, there are only nine nominees, and many were surprised when Midnight In Paris and Extremely Loud made the cut.
4. During Best Animated Feature:
“Did you know Cars 2 is the very first Pixar feature to not be nominated for an Oscar?”
Yep, its true. Both in terms of critics and awards, Cars 2 might just be the first bona fide Pixar flop.
5. During Best Actor:
“This is a big year for new nominees; there are three actors here who have never been nominated before, and lots of critics are thinking Jean Dujardin (zhah[n] doo-zhar-dah[n]) is going to upset both Brad Pitt and George Clooney!”
Nearly half of this year’s acting slots are occupied by first-time nominees: Best Supporting Actress nominees Bérénice Bejo, Jessica Chastain, Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer, Best Supporting Actor hopeful Jonah Hill, Best Actress pick Rooney Mara, and potential best actors Demián Bichir, Gary Oldman and Dujardin are all new to the game.
6. During Best Actress:
“This is the big upset of the night, right here – Viola’s gonna beat Meryl!”
Of all the categories and competitions at this year’s Academy Awards, few have evolved as dramatically over the past month as Best Actress. Many considered Meryl Streep to be a lock for her uncanny performance in The Iron Lady, but in recent days numerous critics – including our own Richard Corliss – have come out predicting a Viola Davis triumph, for her fearless work in The Help. It should be an upset, and a speech, to remember.
7. During Best Picture:
“Did you know only one silent film has ever won Best Picture? And you have to go all the way back to the first year of the awards – to 1929, and Wings”
Yes, yes, we know that The Artist — considered a frontrunner this year for best picture — is not technically a silent picture. There are a couple syllables of dialogue and a creative sound design that incorporates noises beyond the musical score. But for all practical purposes, it is a silent film, and if it wins the top award, it will be only the second silent feature to do so, hailing all the way back to the first Oscars ceremony in 1929 and the first standout Wings. (Actually, if you want to get technical, there was no such thing as Best Picture in 1929…Wings actually won the “Most Outstanding Production” prize, and a year later, when the Academy instituted “Best Production,” voters decided to retroactively bestow it to Wings as well)