Is this the greatest Oscar-winning film you've never seen?

We think we might have created the perfect Oscar-winning film: a three-hanky historical epic with Winslet, Day-Lewis and Spielberg all on board. But ‘The Tango Instructor’ is missing one vital element: your creative input, dear reader…

Sunday 22 February 2009 01:00

The formula for success: Only three films have won all of the “big five” categories (Best Picture, Actress, Actor, Director, and Original Screenplay): It Happened One Night (a 1934 Frank Capra screwball comedy); One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Milos Forman’s 1975 adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel); and The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme’s 1991 adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel). If there is a common thread joining these three films, it’s that each features a combative male-female lead pair. None, though, is among the biggest Oscar winners; those, such as Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (11), The English Patient (nine), Schindler’s List (seven) and Shakespeare in Love (seven), have also hoovered up awards in the more technical categories. And to do that, it helps if the film is: long (the average running time of the Best Picture is 2hrs 20mins); sombre (the Academy is sniffy about comedies); epic (the broader the canvas, the happier the director of photography); set “historically” or in a coherent fantasy world (give the production and costume designer something to work with); and able to fit in a battle (keep those visual-effects geeks happy), with some tasteful gore (ditto the make-up artists).

Still, as the screenwriter William Goldman famously said of Hollywood’s dream machine, “Nobody knows anything.” But we hope we might know a little. Below is the dream team we think could take The Tango Instructor to Oscar glory. And opposite is the beginnings of a plot for Sindy Productions’ debut feature – which is where you’ll come in.

1. The actress: Kate Winslet, 33, has been nominated six times for Academy Awards in Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress roles, without ever winning. Tonight, she is up for Best Actress (for The Reader). Dare the Academy deny her? Katharine Hepburn has won more Academy Awards for acting than any other woman: four. The average age of the Best Actress winner is 35.

2. The actor: Daniel Day-Lewis has two Best Actor awards (My Left Foot, 1989, There Will Be Blood, 2007) from four nominations in a career of a mere two-dozen films. The 51-year-old Oscar botherer is one of only eight to have twice been Best Actor (others include Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks) – and the only non-American. The average age of the winner: 43.

3. The supporting actress: All hail the Oscar Queen! Meryl Streep picks up noms like you pick up sniffles: 15 all told, including 12 for Best Actress – though it’s been a quarter of a century since she took one home, for Sophie’s Choice. Tonight the 59-year-old is up for Best Actress, for Doubt. The average age of the Best Supporting Actress is 35.

4. The supporting actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman hasn’t popped up in the nominee lists nearly as often as he should. But the Academy has taken a shine to him of late: his Capote clinched him the Best Actor gong in 2005, and the 41-year-old was nominated for Best Supporting Actor last year (Charlie Wilson’s War) and is up for the same award tonight (Doubt). The average age of victors? 45.

5. The lucky mascot: Morgan Freeman joins Meryl Streep, Bernard Hill, Dustin Hoffman, Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in an enviable club: each has appeared in three films that have won Best Picture. Which is why we have an elderly black man living in Berlin during the Second World War...

6. Behind the scenes

Casting: Ellen Lewis cast Forrest Gump (Best Picture winner, 1994) and The Departed (Best Picture winner, 2006). (There is no Academy Award for casting but there has been a long campaign to have one awarded.)

Music: The 77-year-old maestro John Williams has pocketed Oscars for Jaws, ET, Schindler's List, Fiddler on the Roof and Star Wars, and nominated a further 40 times.

Costumes: Colleen Atwood has been nominated a total of seven times for costume design, winning for Chicago (2002) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005).

Editing: Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s right-hand woman, has won three Oscars (Raging Bull, 1980, The Aviator, 2004 and The Departed, 2006) from six noms for editing.

Cinematography: The English director of photography (DP) Roger Deakins began his career with a documentary about his home town Torquay and is now the Coens’ DP of choice. He has earned eight nominations since 1995, including two last year (The Assassination of Jesse James and No Country for Old Men). Could tonight be his night at last? He’s up for The Reader.

The look: The production designer is responsible for the art direction, or overall look, of a film, and Dante Ferretti is the daddy. The 65-year-old has been nominated on eight occasions, picking up Oscars for The Aviator (2004) and Sweeney Todd (2007)

Screenplay: We called in veteran screenwriter William Goldman. Been a while, though, since he picked up his writing Oscars for All the President’s Men (1976) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)…

The book: The screenplay for the Best Picture winner has been adapted from a book 34 times since 1930. Three of tonight’s nominees (Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) are based on a novel or short story

The director: The late John Ford remains the greatest ever director, according to the Oscars, with four statuettes. His closest rival still alive and working is Steven Spielberg, with two Oscars (Schindler’s List, 1993, and Saving Private Ryan, 1998) and a further four nominations.

The producer: Graham King is the producer’s producer.

‘The Tango Instructor’: A work in progress

We think The Tango Instructor is nearly there: it has the talent, the poster and, below, the plot. The only thing missing is an ending. Why not try writing your own synopsis for the rest of the film, in no more than 200 words, based on the poster here? Email us your Oscar-winning treatment to (subject line: The Tango Instructor), by Friday 27 February. We’ll publish the best attempts at thetango instructor on Friday 6 March.

Having deserted his German army regiment on the Eastern front in 1943, Klaus von Hunkendorff (Daniel Day-Lewis) manages to get back home to Berlin. Scarred by his battle experiences, Klaus is desperately seeking the love of his life, Lilly Kaput (Kate Winslet), a feisty tango instructor on the Berlin cabaret scene. He wishes to save her from the clutches of Heinrich Kugelscriber (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the SS officer who lusts after Lilly, and plan their escape to Switzerland.

Unfortunately, Klaus is married to Lilly’s twin sister, Eva, a cynical Berlin society hostess (also Kate Winslet – double the Oscar opportunities!). Eva knows about their affair and is trying to turn Klaus in to Kugelscriber. In their efforts to foil Kugelscriber and Eva, Lilly is assisted by her old friend, the syphilitic ageing brothel madame Mutti Stinkelklomp (Meryl Streep), and Klaus by his drinking partner from his carousing days in the Thirties, Mo “Eagle Eye” Adderley (Morgan Freeman), a blind trumpet player now in hiding (along with his guide dog, Bix) after refusing to leave Berlin at the outbreak of war. Over to you for the final act…

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