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.

Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris
architecture

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past