Are you a follower, or are you a leader?
Will you wait until the Oscar winners are announced on Sunday, and then go see the awarded movies that aren't exactly in your comfort zone? Or would you rather lord it over the rest of the folks at your Oscar party, being all, "Oh yeah, I saw that one. It was pretty good. Oh, but I guess you guys weren't cool enough to hear about it yet."
Get the jump on your friends! Check out these five lesser-seen gems in the nomination hunt, and be quick about it:
1. Chico & Rita (Best Animated Feature): We're betting this Spanish-language animated feature probably didn't play anywhere near you, but it's worth tracking down.
Using what looks like a combination of hand-painting and rotoscoping, this intensively researched period film captures the Cuban jazz scene of the '40s and '50s, as well as a heartbreaking romance between a singer who goes on to Hollywood fame, and the piano player who follows her to the U.S. only to be unjustly deported.
You don't even have to like jazz to appreciate it, though it helps not to get the giggles at any hint of cartoon sex. If you're allergic to subtitles, an English dub starring Mary J. Blige is apparently in the works.
2. Bridesmaids (Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress): Enough people saw this Kristen Wiig comedy to make it a surprise hit, but how many of them had Y chromosomes?
Guys, you need to check it out too.
We get that you may be tired of Wiig's exaggerated accents and insane characters on SNL, but as the jilted best friend passed up in favor of wealthier benefactors, she channels honest insecurity into righteous rage as mightily as any fictional sports hero. "Punching a hole in a giant cookie" is the new "drinking raw eggs."
3. Bullhead (Best Foreign Language): Before he was cast as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, did you ever see Tom Hardy in Bronson? As a jacked-up, psychotic prisoner in England, he got everybody's attention, and now gets to write his own ticket in the industry.
Aside from being in Dutch and French, Bullhead is a similar showcase for Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays black-market cattle-hormone trader Jacky.
Using steroids on himself to compensate for emasculations both literal and figurative, he has become a beast of a man, and one caught up in events beyond his control. Odds he'll respond rationally to exterior stresses? Slim and none. Odds that fans of dark crime dramas with strong characters will dig this? 100 percent.
The more conventional A Separation will likely win, but Bullhead will be remembered longer.
4. The Adventures of Tintin (Best Original Score): Everyone talks up Andy Serkis' performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes as a chimpanzee, but his embodiment of one of Belgian kid-lit's most enduring characters is by far the greater accomplishment.
He brings Tintin's best pal Captain Haddock perfectly into the third dimension—an unapologetically alcoholic sea captain fond of swearing almost non-stop (albeit in humorous PG ways), who doesn't get entirely cured of his rascally ways by movie's end, and even uses booze a bit like Popeye's spinach.
Yes, the choice to make the characters look half-photorealistic and half-cartoon is an odd one, but Serkis makes his wholly real. And there's a reason the Tintin books have survived so many years—bear in mind the French thought Steven Spielberg was ripping off the boy detective's exploits when he created Indiana Jones.
5. The Artist (multiple categories): Yes, it's the odds-on favorite to sweep. So why do we assume you haven't seen it yet?
Because it made less than a third of the grosses for Underworld: Awakening. Did you see that? Did anyone you know?
Seriously, if you're avoiding The Artist because of an aversion to silent film, don't. Unlike actual silent films, it constantly breaks the rules of the time period in which it's supposedly set (thereby allowing deceptive trailers to pretend it's a sound film), and is shot and edited for a more modern attention span.
Plus, that dog really is damn cute.