This year, in preparation for the Oscars, I made a good faith effort to watch every Best Picture nominee. I failed of course and it dawned on me that any and all attempts of this kind are the student’s version of dreaming the impossible dream, at least as far as far as our campus is concerned. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. The idea of making ten trips to the movies (some of which only show downtown) seems like a pipe-dream in retrospect, yet I think we would all like to understand what we’re watching when the Academy Awards start this Sunday. Thus, speaking from a position of absolute non-expertise (remember, I didn’t even see all of these movies), I’ve compiled a cheat sheet with most of what you need to know about the Best Picture nominees this year.

American Hustle: For most of this movie, Christian Bale uses an American accent and Amy Adams uses an English one. The inversion is mind-blowing. The action revolves around a petty grifter who finds himself over his head in an entrapment scheme meant to “root out corruption on Capitol Hill.” It’s the 1970s, and there’s a lot of cool, era-specific music and fashion. The opening scene involves a comb-over.

            Chance of Winning the Oscar: relatively good, for some reason.

Captain Phillips: A merchant mariner embarks on a risky route through the Indian Ocean and, lo and behold, pirates attack! Over the course of the film, he is taken hostage, beaten (both with weapons and with his assailant’s bare hands) and ultimately rescued by the U.S. Navy. You get the sense that the director wanted to sympathize with the Somali pirates, but in the end, he fails pretty badly at that.

            Chance of Winning the Oscar: not seaworthy.

Dallas Buyers Club: In 1985, an electrician is diagnosed with AIDS and told that he has about a month to live. Following this diagnosis, he develops a scheme to smuggle effective antiviral medications into Texas, having found them helpful in his own treatment. Matthew McConaughey is far away from his Dazed and Confused role in this one. If you ever wanted to see him get real skinny, you’re in luck.

            Chance of Winning the Oscar: about as good as good as it gets for movies that are not 12 Years a Slave.

Gravity: The visuals in this movie are stunning. There is no bigger favorite in any category this year than Gravity for Best Visual Effects. Also, this movie grossed over $700 million at the box office and was by far the biggest hit of any Best Picture nominee this year. The plot? An attempt to service the Hubble Space Telescope goes horribly awry. Simple, but exciting. Probably the token blockbuster of this year’s nominees.

            Chance of Winning the Oscar: astronomical.

Her: Scarlett Johansson is compelling as an artificially intelligent computer, and Joaquin Phoenix is interesting as the man who falls in love with her. Probably both the most inventive and quirky movie of this year’s crop. What else do you need to know?

            Chance of Winning the Oscar: not good, but then again this is true love we’re talking about.

Nebraska and Philomena: Two movies in similar fashion. Both center on eccentric old people and their young companions. Philomena: a mother looking for her long-lost son. Nebraska: a father taking a trip to Nebraska with his son, with whom he does not have the best relationship. Chances are, if you have seen these movies, you are not a UCSB undergraduate. Both are very good, or so I’m told.

            Chance of Winning the Oscar: unthinkable.

The Wolf of Wall Street: A sex- and drug-filled romp through the world of securities fraud in the early 1990s. This movie actually set a new record for the most “fuck”s of any movie in history with 569 F-bombs dropped in three hours (according to Wikipedia). If you haven’t seen this movie, imagine a drug-fueled, extremely charismatic, sex addict with a yacht and a Swiss bank account, doing illegal things and trying not to get caught.

Chance of Winning the Oscar: roughly your chance of scoring quaaludes at a Chick-fil-A.

12 Years a Slave: Based on an 1853 memoir by Solomon Northrup, who was born free in New York and kidnapped into slavery in 1841. It stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon, and Michael Fassbender as his unscrupulous owner. Some have said this is the best movie ever made about American slavery and if it doesn’t win the Oscar on Sunday, we may well want to check for four horsemen riding down Pardall.

            Chance of Winning the Oscar: if my life were riding on this movie winning the Oscar, I would probably still get a few hours of sleep on Saturday.

 Ben Moss doesn’t have time to think of a tagline … he’s way too busy.

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