How to see the year's best movies on the cheap

The Golden Globe ballots have been announced, and Academy Award nods are nigh. Nobody wants to show up to an Oscar party without a working knowledge of at least some of the nominees. But with movie theater ticket prices creeping upwards, getting an education on films like -- well, An Education -- adds up fast. So how can you prep for awards season without going broke?

The cheapest, simplest and easiest answer is: matinees. Prices are often up to 50% less before the sun goes down -- so if your workplace closes for holiday observances, use that time to get your film fixes in. Block out the morning and afternoon, and you can see two films for roughly the price of seeing one at night.

Speaking of double features -- if you can sit through two movies, awards season is the time to find out whether you can sit through more. Last year, 97 AMC theaters across the country offered a Best Picture Showcase -- the five Best Picture nominees, back to back, for $30. This year, the Oscars expanded the Best Picture field to ten films, so who knows how AMC will adapt -- how many people can sit through ten films? Regardless, keep an eye on fandango.com -- and on your local theaters -- for package deals like these.

If your schedule dictates that you'll have to catch the year's best films like most people do -- one at a time, and in the evenings -- your best bet is independent theaters. The ticket prices at these moviehouses are often below market norms and don't include corporate markups -- plus, your purchase supports a small business or nonprofit. Many offer annual memberships that bring down your ticket prices even more -- and encourage you to see great work all year round, instead of during the awards-season rush.

One caveat: get to the theater early. Stadium seating is a rarity at independent theaters, so you'll want to grab your seats well ahead of showtime. (By the way, here's a great guide on how to save seats without annoying everyone around you, courtesy of Gawker.)

Last but not least -- if you're still cringing at the thought of $10-and-up tickets, cheer up. Lots of nominated movies are already out on DVD or will be shortly, including: The Hurt Locker (Jan. 12), Inglorious Basterds, The Hangover, (500) Days of Summer (Dec. 22), and Julie & Julia.

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