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Oscar fun facts: What you don't know about this year's best picture nominees

By Jennifer Vineyard, Special to CNN
updated 2:20 PM EST, Sun February 24, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The fake movie they pretend to make in "Argo" is actually based on a real science fiction novel
  • There's a reference to a horror movie Bradley Cooper starred in during "Silver Linings Playbook"
  • On the set of "Lincoln," Daniel Day-Lewis wrote his character's wife limericks

(CNN) -- There's not much time before this Sunday's Academy Awards show, but if you still haven't caught up on all the best picture nominees we've got you covered.

The first thing you need to know is that they are long: "Django Unchained" has a whopping 2-hour and 45-minute run time while "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Les Miserables" both clock in at exactly 2 hours and 37 minutes.

And not only might you need to settle in and get comfy to watch this year's nominees ( "Everybody's got a numb bum," joked "Les Miz" co-star Eddie Redmayne about one of the possible side effects for viewers of his film) there is more than meets the eye when it comes to these movies.

Cast your Oscar picks

To prep you for Sunday's big event, we've compiled some fun facts, conversation starters and, yes, even some break tips for this year's best picture nominees.

With just a few days left before awards season officially comes to a close, the Oscars race is closer than ever. We put the top categories to the test to determine who should be honored with an Academy Award, versus the films that will walk away with a statue this Sunday. Want to weigh in yourself? Cast your own vote in CNN's Oscar ballot. With just a few days left before awards season officially comes to a close, the Oscars race is closer than ever. We put the top categories to the test to determine who should be honored with an Academy Award, versus the films that will walk away with a statue this Sunday. Want to weigh in yourself? Cast your own vote in CNN's Oscar ballot.
Who will win vs. who should win
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Photos: Who will win vs. who should win Photos: Who will win vs. who should win
Hugh Jackman at the Oscars Luncheon
Hugh Jackman at the Oscars Luncheon
History, Hollywood style

'Argo'

Run time: 2 hours, 20 minutes. Best time to go to the bathroom? The houseguests' dinner party.

Roommates: To create the sense of claustrophobia that the houseguests have while hiding at the Canadian ambassador's house, director Ben Affleck had the six "Argo" actors actually live together, with no Internet and no air conditioning.

"I totally did not want to do it," Tate Donovan said. "I was like, 'Who wants to spend six days with a bunch of young idiots? Method actors?' And we ended up falling in love with each other. Don't tell anyone, but we had the best time."

One other live-in situation preceded this one, however: Donovan used to be post-college roommates with his best friend, "Argo" producer Grant Heslov.

"He basically forced Ben Affleck to cast me (as Bob Anders)," Donovan said. "He did. Swear to God. Totally true."

The way Heslov tells it, he told Affleck, "My buddy Tate is perfect for this role. Ben was like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever,' and I wore him down."

Afterwards, Affleck was happy Heslov did. "He said, 'Thank God I did (cast you),'" Donovan laughed.

Science Fiction Land: The fake movie they pretend to make in "Argo" is actually based on a real science fiction novel: 1967's "Lord of Light," by Roger Zelazny. A struggling screenwriter named Barry Geller wrote a draft, imagining that if the film were made, it could lead to a theme park called Science Fiction Land (to include voice-operated cars and robots, as if Tomorrowland in Disneyland were the main attraction). He even consulted with Ray Bradbury for the project and got concept art from Jack Kirby (co-creator of "The X-Men").

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Far from being a script from a slush pile, "Lord of Light" was a film with some development behind it, even if it had fallen apart, and Geller was much dismayed when the CIA took it over.

Could this scrapped film have actually been a hit, with its sci-fi mysticism and life on a colonized planet?

"Now, it could be," "Argo" producer George Clooney told CNN. "Now I think it would make a hit film, don't you?"

'Silver Linings Playbook'

Run time: 2 hours, 2 minutes. Best time to go to the bathroom? When Shea Whigham comes home to watch a football game.

The Horror, The Horror!: After a quasi-date, Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) have an argument near a movie theater on Halloween night. On the partially obscured marquee? "Midnight M--- Train." That's a reference to "Midnight Meat Train," the 2008 horror movie based on a Clive Barker story, starring none other than ... Bradley Cooper. "Silver Linings" director David O. Russell thought it would be a cute Easter egg to toss in the nod, and when he first suggested it, Cooper thought Russell was joking. But then he showed up on set, and there it was, along with posters in the entrance way to the theater.

"It was fantastic," Cooper laughed. "You can just almost see it."

'Amour'

Run time: 2 hours, 7 minutes. Best time to go to the bathroom? During the former piano pupil's visit.

Cult Classic: Emmanuelle Riva, the oldest best actress nominee in history, turns 86 on Oscar night. She is known to serious cinephiles as the female lead in Alain Resnais's 1959 film "Hiroshima Mon Amour," which helped spark France's nouvelle vague movement. Leonard Maltin called it "the 'Birth of a Nation' of the French New Wave," Eric Rohmer called it "the first modern film of sound cinema" and Jean-Luc Godard called it "the first film without any cinematic references."

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'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

Run time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. You can hold it.

Swim Team: Director Behn Zeitlin looked at 4,000 kids over the course of nine months to cast the part of Hushpuppy before he decided on a 5-year-old, Quvenzhané Wallis. Problem was, she didn't know how to swim, even though moving through bodies of water would be a requirement on the job.

"So we taught her to swim as part of making the film," director Behn Zeitlin said. "There was a scene where she had to run into the water, and we had people hiding in the water to catch the girls, but she was like Jesus on the water. She just ran on top of the water, past the guards who were there to catch her. She was fearless."

'Lincoln'

Run time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. Best time to go to the bathroom? Anytime, seriously.

There Once Was A Man Named Abe: Daniel Day-Lewis is a famously Method actor. On the set of "Nine," he wrote his co-stars love letters in character as Guido. And on the set of "Lincoln," he wrote his character's wife limericks, in character as Lincoln, signing them, "Yours, A." And apparently, they were naughty, or at least, very personal.

"I wouldn't tell anybody the content of them," Sally Field laughed. "They're mine, and not yours, and it will always be that way. It was just our way of getting to know each other and preparing, so I wouldn't tell you, even if I did remember them off the top of my head!"

Field said she responded in character as Mary Todd Lincoln, "and she criticized him quite a bit," so her texts back were not very encouraging. "That's kind of what she was," Field said.

'Django Unchained'

Run time: 2 hours, 45 minutes. Best time to go to the bathroom? The KKK raid, unless you're keen on a Jonah Hill cameo.

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The D is Silent: The name "Django" was so chosen because of Sergio Corbucci's 1967 spaghetti western starring Franco Nero, which resulted in a number of sequels, well, sequels only in the sense that they shared the character name Django. Quentin Tarantino uses musical cues from the original "Django" as well as Corbucci's "The Hellbenders," Clint Eastwood's "Two Mules for Sister Sara" and Sergio Sollima's "Violent City."

'Les Miserables'

Run time: 2 hours, 37 minutes. Best time to go to the bathroom? "If you go very, very fast, then you can go after 'One Day More,' where the interval would have been," said director Tom Hooper.

Lapdances: Hugh Jackman celebrated his co-star Amanda Seyfried's 27th birthday while on the promo tour by giving her a very public lapdance, even though he plays the adopted father to her Cosette in the film.

"In my household, that's normal," he joked. "Is that not normal in father-daughter relationships? I was singing ('happy birthday') very sweetly to her, and then I looked at her eyes, and you can't maintain sweetness for more than five seconds."

Jackman predicts there might be more lapdances in store -- perhaps on Oscar night?

"She might need more of them," he laughed. "It's a very demanding job to keep her in line, because she is quite naughty."

Told of this, Seyfried said she understands and accepts her "punishment."

"I know he really enjoys that, so I'll let him," she said. "If that's what he needs. Whatever he needs."

'Life of Pi'

Run time: 2 hours, 6 minutes. Best time to go to the bathroom? Before the shipwreck.

Deep Blue Sea: Director Ang Lee and screenwriter Dave Magee consulted with a real-life shipwreck survivor named Steve Callahan (who is actually mentioned in Yann Martel's source novel) to help make the ocean a real character in the story. Callahan, a professional sailor, details in his book "Adrift" (required reading for all the film's various department heads) how he was lost at sea for 76 days in an inflated 5-foot life raft, and he became the film's survival expert, sharing mechanics, psychology, and imagery that the filmmakers adopted (such as the wondrous moment when the whale and calf come up from the deep and stream bioluminescence from their bodies).

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Callahan helped created Pi's rainwater canopy, honed designs for the life raft and taught young actor Suraj Sharma how to spear fish. He explained how he wrote in a journal to determine his location, so Lee and Magee borrowed that idea to have Pi write in the margins of his survival guide (which Callahan helped create).

Callahan also took the filmmakers out on the ocean, first off the coast of Maine in an antique Friendship sloop during foul weather. The director actually asked to be left out there alone, so he could feel shipwrecked. But as accommodating as the survival expert was, this was one request Callahan refused.

'Zero Dark Thirty'

Run time: 2 hours, 37 minutes. Best time to go to the bathroom? "That's a tough one, man," laughed actor Jason Clarke. "I don't think you can. There should be a disclaimer beforehand. 'Please shut off your mobile phones; please go to the bathroom.'"

CIA Trackers: James Gandolfini portrays former CIA head Leon Panetta for a few memorable scenes, and just to be on the safe side, he sent a note to Panetta before the film came out: "I'm very sorry about everything. I apologize. You're like my father, so you'll find something to be angry about, but please let me know."

For months, silence. Then, as "Zero Dark Thirty" was in the throes of awards season in early January, screenwriter Mark Boal told Gandolfini, "Leon Panetta would like your phone number because he doesn't know how to get in touch with you."

The actor was surprised. "He's the head of the CIA! He can't find me? Come on, really?!"

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