Oscars Made Easy
The 82nd annual Academy Awards are upon us, and Oscar party invitations are likely flooding your mailbox. Don't duck them because you haven't seen all the nominated movies yet. Just consult our handy guide -- and then if someone asks you what you thought of, say, Carey Mulligan's performance in 'An Education,' you can tell them, "Mulligan was a revelation in a rare coming-of-age tale told from the female perspective.' See? Easy!

We've given you everything you need to sound smart at your Oscars party. So stop panicking, study up and get ready to start schooling people on the difference between 'A Serious Man' and 'A Single Man.' Oscars Made Easy
The 82nd annual Academy Awards are upon us, and Oscar party invitations are likely flooding your mailbox. Don't duck them because you haven't seen all the nominated movies yet. Just consult our handy guide -- and then if someone asks you what you thought of, say, Carey Mulligan's performance in 'An Education,' you can tell them, "Mulligan was a revelation in a rare coming-of-age tale told from the female perspective.' See? Easy!

We've given you everything you need to sound smart at your Oscars party. So stop panicking, study up and get ready to start schooling people on the difference between 'A Serious Man' and 'A Single Man.'

See full Oscars nominees list | Print out your Oscars ballot

Avatar'Avatar'
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director (James Cameron), Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Special Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
What It's About: Paraplegic Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is recruited by scientists to interact with the Na'vi people via an avatar he controls with his mind. After oil-seeking corporate types bribe him to be their spy, he befriends a lovely female Na'vi (Zoe Saldana) ... and they fall in love. And he saves the village when the evil corporation invades (whoops, spoiler alert).
Why You Should See It: Forget storyline and dialogue -- everything they say about the 3-D effects is true. It's one of the most beautiful films of recent years, and arguably the best 3-D movie (visually) ever made.
It's Kind of Like: 'Dances With Wolves' meets 'Pocahontas' meets 'FernGully: The Last Rainforest'
How You Can See It: In theaters now

The Blind Side'The Blind Side'
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actress (Sandra Bullock)
What It's About: The true story of Michael Oher's humble beginnings as a homeless teen who gets taken in by the affluent Tuohy family and becomes a first-round draft pick in the NFL.
Why You Should See It: You won't feel bad watching this rags-to-riches tale, because it's true. Plus, Sandra Bullock gives the performance of a lifetime that goes much deeper than the no-nonsense exterior.
It's Kind of Like: 'Friday Night Lights' meets 'Erin Brockovich'
How You Can See It: In theaters now

Crazy Heart'Crazy Heart'
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Best Original Song ('The Weary Kind')
What It's About: A drunk and aging country star named Bad Blake (Bridges), who's doing his best to stay relevant, meets a curious journalist (Gyllenhaal), whom he ends up falling for -- but his booze-filled ways wreck their love.
Why You Should See It: It's the performance of Bridges' career, and the fantastic tunes stand up to the acting whether you're a country fan or not. Maggie Gyllenhaal is pretty easy on the eyes, too.
It's Kind of Like: 'Walk the Line' meets 'The Wrestler' Meets 'Leaving Las Vegas'
How You Can See It: In theaters now

District 9'District 9'
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay
What It's About: Crustacean-shaped aliens arrive on Earth, where they're confined to an internment camp-turned-slum outside Johannesburg. When government-employed mercenaries relocate the aliens by force, one field operative learns to identify with the "prawns" -- by slowly mutating into one of them.
Why You Should See It: CGI has never looked so real, and with the gut-wrenching parallels to apartheid, you'll forget you're watching the plight of imaginary creatures from outer space.
It's Kind of Like: 'Alien' meets 'Cry, the Beloved Country'
How You Can See It: On DVD now

An Education'An Education'
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actress (Carey Mulligan), Best Adapted Screenplay (Nick Hornby)
What It's About: A precocious teen (Mulligan) in 1960s London suburbia is swept off of her feet by an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) who's not the dreamboat she thinks he is.
Why You Should See It: Mulligan is a revelation in a star-making performance, but the film itself was one of the best of 2009, a pitch-perfect drama and the rare coming-of-tale told from the female perspective.
It's Kind of Like: 'The Man in the Moon' meets 'Shadow of a Doubt'
How You Can See It: In theaters now; on DVD March 30

The Hurt Locker'The Hurt Locker'
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow), Best Actor (Jeremy Renner), Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
What It's About: A bomb disposal expert in Iraq who's also an adrenaline junkie pushes the line between being a brave, nerves-of-ice hero and a reckless leader.
Why You Should See It: Because it's the best Iraq war movie made so far, and it has zero political connotations or subtext. It's all about soldiers, what they go through and how insane some of them need to be to protect us.
It's Kind of Like: 'Three Kings' meets 'Blown Away'
How You Can See It: In theaters now or on DVD now

In the Loop'In The Loop'
Nominated for: Best Adapted Screenplay
What It's About: After British Secretary of State for International Development Simon Foster accidentally endorses a war in the Middle East on TV, the American government tries to use him to launch one.
Why You Should See It: It's a scary and brilliant satire of both the British and American governments that'll have you laughing (so you don't start crying). Peter Capaldi is frightening as a Rahm Emmanuel-esque political spin doctor, and the ensemble cast creates a hilarious and absurd reality.
It's Kind of Like: 'The West Wing' meets 'The Office'
How You Can See It: On DVD now

Inglourious Basterds'Inglourious Basterds'
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director (Quentin Tarantino) Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino), Best Cinematography (Robert Richardson), Best Film Editing (Sally Menke), Best Sound Editing (Wylie Stateman), Best Sound (Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti, and Mark Ulano)
What It's About: While operating a movie theater in Nazi-occupied Paris, a young Jewish woman (Melanie Laurent) tries to outwit the notorious Jew Hunter (Christoph Waltz); meanwhile Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) leads the Basterds, an elite team of Jewish soldiers who have one mission: kill as many Nazis as possible.
Why You Should See It: On the surface, it's a pulpy, over-the-top WWII revenge film; underneath, it's a love letter to the escapist relief of movies, and the power of cinema to give us the reality we wish we had.
It's Kind of Like: 'The Dirty Dozen' meets 'Day for Night'
How You Can See It: On DVD now

Invictus'Invictus'
Nominated for: Best Actor (Morgan Freeman), Best Supporting Actor (Matt Damon)
What It's About: Newly elected South African president Nelson Mandela finds a fun way to unify his divided nation: championing the national rugby team (captained by Damon's Francois Pienaar).
Why You Should See It: Well, when was the last time you saw a great rugby movie? This reliably inspirational Clint Eastwood-directed drama about a remarkable true story will leave you itching to find out how close the filmmakers stuck to reality.
It's Kind of Like: 'Cry Freedom' meets 'Miracle'
How You Can See It: In theaters now

'Julie & Julia'
Nominated for: Best Actress (Meryl Streep)
What It's About: Nora Ephron's movie combines two books: Julie Powell's 'Julia & Julia,' in which Powell (Amy Adams) blogged about cooking every recipe in Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' over the course of one year; and Child's 'My Life in France,' the legendary cookbook author's memoir of learning to cook late in life.
Why You Should See It: Streep's performance is more than just an impersonation and a singsong accent. She's marvelously funny, attacking the role with gusto, vulnerability and a twinkle in her eye. And if you love food but don't come away wanting either to cook or eat Child's Boeuf Bourguignon, then you should think about handing in your eating card.
It's Kind of Like: 'Ratatouille' meets 'Something's Gotta Give'
How You Can See It: On DVD now

The Last Station'The Last Station'
Nominated for: Best Actress (Helen Mirren), Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer)
What It's About: Plummer is an aging Leo Tolstoy, who may or may not have been convinced to leave his works and wealth to the Russian people by a loyal aid (James McAvoy), much to the chagrin of Tolstoy's wife (Mirren).
Why You Should See It: 80-year-old screen vet Plummer finally scored his first Oscar nom for this surprisingly delightful drama that not only has a bit of fun with world history, but features no fewer than four masterfully crafted performances.
It's Kind of Like: 'Miss Potter' meets 'Venus'
How You Can See It: In theaters now

Precious 'Precious'
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actress (Gabourey Sidibe), Best Supporting Actress (Mo'Nique)
What It's About: An overweight, illiterate African-American girl growing up in an abusive home in Harlem gets a second chance at life after she attends a new, alternative school.
Why You Should See It: Director Lee Daniels gets amazing performances from newcomer Gabourey Sidibe and from Oscar frontrunner Mo'Nique. The movie tells a heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting story that is original and raw.
It's Kind of Like: 'The Color Purple' meets 'Cinderella'
How You Can See It: On DVD March 9

A Serious Man'A Serious Man'
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay
What It's About: A Jewish man (Michael Stuhlbarg) searches for meaning from friends, neighbors and up above when his job and marriage begin to unravel.
Why You Should See It: The Coen brothers' signature black humor is in full force here with an abstract plot that offers more questions than answers (in other words: this isn't 'The Blind Side'). Still, Stuhlbarg gives a criminally underrated performance as the titular character and, if anything, the film's head-scratching ending should be enough to keep the conversation going at any Oscar party.
It's Kind of Like: 'Yentl' meets 'Barton Fink'
How You Can See It: On DVD now

A Single Man'A Single Man'
Nominated for: Best Actor (Colin Firth)
What It's About: A gay professor (Firth) decides to commit suicide following the death of his lover (Matthew Goode) in 1960's Los Angeles.
Why You Should See It: It features an Oscar-worthy performance by Firth, who proves that he can handle much more than the stoic Mr. Darcy types he so often plays on screen. And for visually minded viewers, the film's lush cinematography and set designs are a treat -- not to mention the costumes, which look like something straight out of director Tom Ford's runway collection.
It's Kind of Like: 'Far From Heaven' meets ''The Hours'
How You Can See It: In theaters now

'Up'
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing
What It's About: Grumpy old Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) turns his house into a makeshift hot air balloon and heads to a South American paradise to fulfill the wishes of his deceased wife. Along the way he's joined by a chubby scout stowaway, exotic birds and a fleet of talking dogs.
Why You Should See It: It's a dazzling film bursting with ideas that offers a heartfelt look at the unplanned turns in the adventure of life. And it features one of the most emotionally gripping opening scenes of a movie -- ever.
It's Kind of Like: 'It's a Wonderful Life' meets 'My Neighbor Totoro'
How You Can See It: On DVD now

Up in the Air'Up in the Air'
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director (Jason Reitman), Best Actor (George Clooney), Best Supporting Actress (Vera Farmiga), Best Supporting Actress (Anna Kendrick), Best Adapted Screenplay
What It's About: A corporate downsizer loves a life spent in airports and hotel rooms, without emotional ties -- until he meets his female counterpart and starts to rethink his isolated existence.
Why You Should See It: It has the cleverness of Reitman's last hit 'Juno' (without that vaguely annoying preciousness), the charm of George Clooney and the sexiness of Vera Farmiga -- all intercut with interview clips of real, unemployed Americans.
It's Kind of Like: 'American Beauty' meets 'The Terminal'
How You Can See It: On DVD March 9