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How to win an Oscar

The Golden Globes have been and gone and the 90th Academy Awards are on the horizon. On March the 4th, Hollywood will descend on the Dolby Theatre in anticipation of picking up one of those coveted golden statuettes. But what exactly makes a movie or performance Oscar worthy? Over the years, patterns and trends have certainly emerged, with specific roles, genres and themes consistently acting as Academy bait. Here are just a few tips that may improve your chances on the road to Oscar glory:

Physical Transformation

McConaughey’s almost skeletal transformation was a notable blow to the actor’s health. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Whether it be weight loss, weight gain, or Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose, actors who undergo drastic physical changes demonstrate dedication to their craft and this is frequently recognised and rewarded. From Robert De Niro piling on the pounds to play Jake La Motta, Christian Bale losing a third of his body weight for The Machinist, or Charlize Theron’s strikingly unglamorous make-under as serial killer Aileen Wuornos, including a set of crooked teeth, weight gain, and shaved eyebrows. Such transformations are regarded as bold and courageous. It might sacrifice your health in exchange for Hollywood glory, as with huge changes such as Matthew McConaughey’s weight loss for Dallas Buyer’s Club, but it might revive your career on the way!


Make a Holocaust movie 

Perhaps the quintessential Oscar-bait movie, films that deal with Nazism or the Holocaust are bound to get voters’ attention. The most acclaimed example is Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, which won an astounding nine Oscars in 1993, but other notable wins include Adrien Brody’s stirring portrayal of Polish musician, Wladyslaw Szpilman, Meryl Streep’s performance in Sophie’s Choice, Kate Winslet’s SS guard for The Reader, and Christoph Waltz’s SS commandment in Inglorious Basterds. The trauma of the Holocaust frequently appears to act as a convenient shortcut to moral gravitas, complexity, and depth, which resonates with the Academy.


Play a real-life figure

The Academy loves a biopic and this is reflected in the number of awards bestowed on performers who portray real people. Colin Firth stammered his way to victory as King George VI, Marion Cotillard won Best Actress for her wrenching portrayal of Edith Piaf, Helen Mirren triumphed as the Queen, and Sean Penn inspired as gay rights activist Harvey Milk. The challenge of avoiding mere imitation yet delivering a convincing and compelling portrayal makes biopics a clear favourite among Academy voters.

The King’s Speech. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Be Meryl Streep 

The incomparable Meryl Streep has been nominated for an Academy Award 17 times throughout the span of her career, holding the current record for any actor (man or woman). Despite the questionable critical or commercial success of the film in question, Meryl’s performances repeatedly triumph and she is very likely to be name-checked by the academy, any lists of nominations have become incomplete without her.

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Comments (1)

  • “Be Meryl Streep” was so accurate. She could just phone it in at this point and still be nominated. It’s like her name has to be there. Not that she will ever phone it in.

    Also, Adrien Brody has given several Oscar-worthy performances, but only The Pianist generated enough hype to get him the award. So, you may be on to something.

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