What it takes to win a Oscar

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

All film-makers are searching for the secrets of Oscar success. But the formula is pretty straightforward, as Daniel Bettridge explains...

The 84th Academy Awards are almost upon us. Tomorrow night, months of suspense, debate and discussion will give way to smiles and speeches as a lucky few are chosen to etch their names on to 13.5 inch pieces of cinema history.

In all, 24 awards will be handed out during the Oscars ceremony, which will be beamed live to an audience of millions around the world from its familiar home in Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.

The showpiece of the near four-hour event will be the announcement of this year's Best Picture, chosen from a shortlist of nine nominees. It's the mantelpiece filler that all filmmakers dream about; but it's also one of the most predictable prizes in the industry. In fact, if the past few decades have taught us anything, it's that there is atried-and-tested recipe for Oscar success; a specific formula to follow in order to stake a claim for a Best Picture gong.

Or is there?...

Make a biopic

To say the Academy has a soft spot for biopics would be an understatement. It's got a full-blown gooey centre for any film about a famous face. Nothing says ''potential Oscar winner'' like a heart-warming true story, particularly if it reveals the human side of a well-known public figure. Whether that's in the form of a monarch (The Last Emperor, Elizabeth, The King's Speech), a sports star (Rocky, Chariots Of Fire, Million Dollar Baby), or a politician (All The King's Men, Milk, Frost/Nixon). All of which should have meant that The Iron Lady and Clint Eastwood's J Edgar should have been a shoo-in for the Best Picture gong. They weren't. But Moneyball's presence among the nominees still shows the Academy has a soft spot for stardust-sprinkled true stories.

Man up

Meryl Streep holds the all-time Oscars record for nominations – she landed her 17th nod this year for a turn as the titular metallic matriarch in the Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady – and she's also got the distinction of starring in no fewer than three Best Picture winning movies. But Streep's something of an exception when it comes to the showcase category. The Academy has always had its favourite faces and over the past 83 years, 126 actors have had the distinction of starring in two or more Best Picture winners. But just 10 per cent of these Oscar magnets were women. All of which means that you can exclude The Help from this year's potential winners and instead focus on Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close and The Descendants, which in Tom Hanks and George Clooney have actors who are flypaper for awards recognition.

Hire a famous and/or male director

Female directors are conspicuous by their absence in the history of the Best Picture category. In fact, if you're a woman, you might as well start practising your humble congratulatory face for the cameras now – unless of course you're Kathryn Bigelow, of The Hurt Locker fame. According to other previous winners, any Oscar-worthy Best Picture should have a man behind the camera that's as famous as those in front of it. Step forward Academy favourites Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, all of whom have released Oscar bait in the form of The Descendants, Hugo and War Horse to tempt the voting members this year.

Know your audience

The exact roster of the 5,765 Academy members who'll be voting for this year's winners is a closely guarded secret. But recent research by the Los Angeles Times revealed that they are distinctly less diverse than the movie-going public they aim to represent. The study found that Oscar voters are nearly 94 per cent Caucasian and 77 per cent male, with an average age of 62, which perhaps goes some way to explaining why success at the box office rarely translates to Academy Awards.

Silence isn't necessarily golden

The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius' love letter to silent cinema, is making a big noise ahead of this year's red carpet event; the French flick, having been lauded by critics and audiences alike, is up for an impressive 10 awards. Backed by Harvey Weinstein, a master of the dark arts of Academy Award success, it's firmly among the Best Picture contenders and is even the bookies' favourite. Then again, the Academy hasn't handed the Best Picture honour to a silent film since the rise of the talkies. The last and only silent film to scoop the Best Picture gong was Wings in 1927-28; even Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece City Lights failed to make the critical cut, proving that silence isn't always golden.

Give it a snappy title

Sixty-one of the 83 Academy Awards handed out for Best Picture have been given to films with titles that are three words or less. Since the turn of the century only an errant preposition in the Cohen brothers' No Country For Old Men and the breathlessly monikered conclusion to Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth meander The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, have exceeded the three-word rule. All of which is good news for the likes of The Help, The Descendants and War Horse. But it could be a body blow to the hopes of films like Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close and Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life; which may have scuppered their chances by adorning their boilerplates with a mouthful of unnecessary expressions.

Make it long

It can be hard for directors to condense their Oscar-worthy, emotion-rending genius into a film that is under two hours long. Indeed, just five of the past 30 winners have come in with a running time of less than 120 minutes. That won't make pleasant reading for Midnight In Paris, which at just 94 minutes is the shortest of this year's hopefuls. It's better news for the likes of Moneyball (133 minutes), The Help (146 minutes) and Tree Of Life (139 minutes).

Spielberg's War Horse has its nose in front on this criteria, coming in just 60 seconds shy of the buttock-numbing two hours and 27 minutes that Best Picture winners have averaged over the past three decades.

Don't make 'em laugh

Comedy is perennially undervalued by the Academy when it comes to Oscars night. While the genre has received a gaggle of nominations down the years – 60 in total, peaking in the 1930s with a swathe of screwball comedies – only a handful of side-splitters has scooped the Best Picture gong. Even Stanley Kubrick's brilliant Dr Strangelove famously failed to woo the voters. In total nine comic movies have won the top prize including the likes of It Happened One Night, Going My Way and Annie Hall. The last laugh-a-minute movie to strike Oscars gold was 1999's bard-based romcom Shakespeare In Love. It doesn't look good then for Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris nor comic-drama The Descendants, which will have to fly in the face of history if they're going to win big tomorrow night.

Keep the British end up

British involvement is considered a hallmark of quality by the rest of the world, and is a sure-fire way to attract the interest of Academy members. More than half (53 per cent) of the past 30 Best Picture winners have been about, directed by or starred Brits. That will be patriotic music to the ears of Best Picture nominee War Horse, set in Devon, as well as the much-fancied Hugo, which also has a gaggle of British actors on its cast list.

Go to war

In answer to Edwin Starr's chorus, war is, in fact, good for plucking awards from the clutches of the Academy's voters, as nearly half (41) of the 83 Best Picture winners will testify. Animals are also a big favourite: Uggie in The Artist, Joey in War Horse; as are people that have to overcome a disability, social prejudice or some form of addiction as part of an uplifting moral tale. In other words, the only way that Spielberg's War Horse could be a firmer favourite for this year's Best Picture gong would be if its equine protagonist was a colour-blind mule trying to raise a family and hold down a steady job while struggling to cope with a ketamine addiction.

Make it period

If you can't make your film about Britain then at least set it some time in the past. The Academy has a habit of mistaking sepia-tinged subject matter for quality film-making. More than half of the 83 movies to have been crowned top dog at the Oscars pound have been period pieces of some sort. In recent years it has become even more predictable, with 20 of the last 30 winners being set in the past. Nominations for The Help, War Horse and The Artist, all of which delve into theannals of history, mean that this year might well be no different.

And the Oscar goes to...

So there you have it. This year's Best Picture Oscar will go to a film probably based in Britain, and almost definitely set in the past. It will take place during a time of war and the action will revolve around some kind of animal or at the very least a child. It will contain an uplifting moral tale, which a famous director will refuse to edit below the two hour and 27 minute mark. While the smart money seems to be on The Artist, Steven Spielberg should probably clear a space on his mantelpiece, just in case.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent