So you want to win an Oscar huh? Understandable. You’ve been acting for a while now, and the money, fame, and public adoration is all getting old. What you want…what you need…is a little gold man. And soon too, because you’re getting desperate and one more drunken text to Peter Dinklaage saying you want to gild him and stand him on your mantle is going to net you a restraining order. Not to worry, there exists a very basic formula for this exact scenario. We’ll have you fake crying on E! in no time. Doesn’t matter if you’re talentless, a Nazi, a criminal or even all three. Just follow the ten simple phases of the Wilde-Lightyear Continuum, the official measuring scale for Oscar buzz (get it?).
The Bonus Points – these are just a little sub-section of the rules really. To be used in the event of a tie. There are three basic types, Period Costume: always a winner with the voters. Very classy. An Accent: who cares if its wrong, do you have any idea how hard accents are!? And finally Homefield Advantage: bonus points for being American.
1) We’re all so great!
Hollywood’s greatest love-affair is with itself, one nice easy step to Oscar success is to go out there and hold a (flattering) mirror up to the world of Show biz. Remember nothing too honest. A little light taunting in the right areas, with the general message that movie-makers are all good guys.
NB: On no account make this film too funny. Comedy is an Oscar death sentence (see Rule 2). Get Michael Giacchino to write you some sad music and have a good solid message. Something about artists’ integrity. The academy loves that shit. Just enforce the image of Hollywood as it sees itself. If you want to win you have to clap the Emperor’s new clothes.
Recent sucesses: The Artist
Took it too far: The Player
2) No laughing matter.
This is important: Do not, under any circumstances, be very, very funny. EVER. If that happens: boom, you’re a comedian. And comedians don’t win Oscars. Even when they truly deserve to. A sad tale, a fantastic actor starts life as a comedian and straight off the bat they will never win an Oscar. Remember to keep it dark and message-riddled.
Recent examples: Woody Allen, Jim Carrey, Bill Murray
NB. Whilst you could point to Jamie Foxx as an example of a former stand-up with some Oscar success, it should be noted he was never actually funny.
3) Keepin’ it Real…
Virginia Woolf, Aileen Wuornos, Ray Charles, Erin Brockovich, David Helfgott, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Roy Bean, Dith Pran, Eufemio Zapata, Leigh Ann Touhy, George VI, Benjamin Disraeli, Jake LaMotta, Anne Sullivan, Henry VIII, Loretta Lynn, Claus Von Bulow, Anna Held, Louis Pasteur, Dick Eklund, Lee Krasner, Brandon Teena, Alvin York, Emma Goldman, Edith Piaf, Ben Bradlee, Elizabeth I, Helen Prejean, Paul Gaugain, Alfred Dreyfus, Helen Keller, Fanny Brice, Molly O’Leary, Bernadette Soubirous, George Cohan, Christy Brown, June Carter, Dashiell Hammett, Barbara Graham, Sir Thomas More, Alice Ward, Katherine Hepburn, John Bayley, Elizabeth II, Antonio Salieri, General Patton, Władysław Szpilman, Truman Capote, Idi Amin, Harvey Milk, Blanche Barrow, Margaret Thatcher, Bela Lugosi and Gandhi.
Whew, there: out of 324 possible acting Oscars, at least 55 have been won by “real people”…In fact the trend has been so strong (especially among leading men) that you have to work combos these days. When Daniel Day-Lewis pulls out the win this year for Lincoln it will be through expert blending of rules 3, 6 and 10. He’s bound to win…unless someone pulls a 11 before then…but 11s are very rare.
Care should be taken not to infringe Rule 10 when picking your role. Note that Steve Biko, Malcolm X, Jim Garrison and Che Guevara are NOT on the above list. Rule 10 takes precedence over all other rules. Even 11.
NB. You have to understand the hierarchy here: playing someone real and alive is subordinate to dying (preferably tragically). Playing someone ugly when you’re not (see Rule 6) beats both, but loses to playing someone gay when you’re straight (rule 8). Dead AND gay is an instant winner, well played Sean Penn.
4) We’re sorry! Here have an Oscar…
This is a special award for people who should have won the year before but were screwed over for either not being cool enough (Judi Dench should have won for Mrs Brown, Helen Hunt won for being the only American nominated) or a valiant effort that went a little too far (Colin Firth, A Single Man broke rule 5). Firth’s case was actually unusual in that an “I’m sorry” Oscar is usually down-graded to a supporting category to ensure less stiff competition from the master Continuum manipulators. The King’s Speech was a well timed and well judged deployment of Rules 3 and 10.
5) …be (sort of) daring.
To deploy this rule you have to be very conscious of the differences between actual daring and “Academy daring”. While actual daring might include difficult or ambiguous themes, troubling images, or very scary truths, “Academy daring” can be as simple as filming it in black and white or having Brad Pitt die at the end. The Oscars tend to use the word “daring” in ways other might use the word “novelty”. Too many filmmakers have shocked their way into a nomination only to discover that Academy voters really don’t like being shocked.
American Beauty: Whats that? American man is totally dis-empowered and collapses but actually he’s really great and for some reason this stunning blonde likes him? How
House of Sand and Fog, difficult moral questions? Iranians that aren’t evil? WTF? Scary. Confusing. No Oscars for you!
6) Can you believe it’s her under all that?!
AKA “The Ugly Oscar”. Recent winners include Charlize Theron (Monster) and Nicole Kidman (The Hours). It’s pretty self explanatory: a special award for good looking people who voluntarily play not-good looking people. Often incorporates elements of Rule 3, and is almost an extension (maybe even the female version) of rule 8. Making yourself a grotesque (which, in Hollywood, is anyone who isn’t white, straight, and beautiful).
Care should be taken never to be out done. Note the example of (the gorgeous) Salma Hayek in Frida, weighed down by tons of extra facial hair and playing real life character….only to lose to Nicole Kidman, who went with a fake nose, a real person, the accent and period costume bonus points AND a tragic death. That’s almost cheating. Bitch.
This is much more a woman’s award than a man’s. Note how John Hurt, even with some solid Rule 3 back-up, didn’t win for The Elephant Man (he lost out to another Rule 3, with homefield advantage). Also noted Mel Gibson and Eric Stotlz didn’t even receive nominations for The Man Without a Face or Mask
NB. A beautiful person volunteering to look ugly (and not Hollywood, Ugly Betty ugly, real ugly) is so massively counter to their accepted value system they’ll not only give you an Oscar but pay for the therapy you so obviously need.
The Oscar handed out to someone who never bothered to really work the rules, but was always good so deserves a pity-Oscar. See: Paul Newman, The Colour of Money, Michael Caine in The Cider House Rules or Christopher Plummer in Beginners
At this point special note needs to be made of Peter O’Toole. Eight nominations and no wins. Maybe he just never played the Rules right, but he had some damn bad luck in coming up against three immovable objects: John Wayne in True Grit (Rule 7), Ben Kingsley in Gandhi (Rules 3 and 10) and Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird (Rule 10)
Losing the other three must have been closer, but his last one, his Rule 7 Oscar, was nabbed at the last second by a Rule 3 and 10 combo with bonus accent points.
8) He kissed a guy…but doesn’t really like it.
Simple: Play at being gay. If you can work a bit of real-life struggle/tragic death (Boys Dont Cry/Milk) or a Rule 10 “AIDS is bad” (Philadelphia) then this is a nice easy one, provided you understand the caveats.
Firstly, under no circumstances can you be seen to have sex (unless you’re lesbians. Lesbian sex is ok). Second, you can only play a gay guy if the movie is ALL ABOUT being gay. Hollywood isn’t ready to just let something as weird as gayness pass without comment. No hero cops who happen to be gay. No alcoholic actors who happen to be gay. No plumbers from Ohio who, by the way, are gay. No. If you’re gay in the movies it has to be a MASSIVE deal. Because movie-makers are just that open minded and liberal.
Third, and most important, you must not, in any way shape or form, be ACTUALLY GAY. Huge no-no. Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry both made wonderful attempts at Rule 3 usage. Both played real characters, one died tragically and one was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. They even grabbed the “Period costume” bonus points. Hell, McKellen even threw out a bit of Rule 1 Hollywood self-referencing. No Oscars. Naive guys…real naive.
Hollywood doesn’t want real gay men. No way. A straight guy pretending to be gay gets an Oscar for successfully pretending to want to kiss guys…which is gross. A gay guy playing gay is confusing and weird and a massive infringement of Rule 5. Far too daring. Hell, an openly gay guy can barely find work playing straight men, let alone win an Oscar for it.
9) The Tropic Thunder Rule
We all know what I mean by this, he explains it perfectly in the movie.
Rain Man, Charly, Forrest Gump etc. = good.
I Am Sam = bad (in lots of ways).
Basically, Hollywood is uncomfortable (in a very lefty liberal way) with the idea of people having value simply for being people, they can only have value in the set of fake values that a warped non-reality has applied to the majority of western movies. Children can’t just be children. Ugly people are just beautiful people in glasses. Gay men never have sex. Hollywood views mentally handicapped people as “grotesques” and to fully embrace their worth as people without modifying them to be less challenging or tacking on some cartoonish super-power in order to make them “acceptable” is never going to win you anything.
Unfortunately this is pretty much an extension of the Ugly and Gay rules, and it’s easy to go too far. Just try and avoid reality and you should be fine.
10) Well…we can all agree on that.
This is perhaps, after Rule 8, the most sickening sacrifice demanded by Hollywood before you’re afforded your place at the top table. Much like Rule 1, where you are forced to play along with Hollywood’s own vision of itself. This is where you’re subjected to the most manipulative “feel good” stories and clap the sentimental, simplified movies they make of them (The Blind Side). This is where you buy into their easy moral lessons and show off your nice leftiness by agreeing that bad things are bad.
Examples: Racism is bad(Crash), war is wrong (Platoon), the Titanic sinking was sad (Titanic).
The things is, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the movie business likes to think of itself as “out there” and liberal…
(Totally irrelevant side-note: No openly gay man/woman has ever won an Oscar. The first non-white winner of a Best Actor/Actress award was in 2002. Don’t even get me started on what Denzel won it for)
….and if you want to win you’re going to have to see it that way too. You’re going to have watch them boil the Civil War down into an anti-slavery rally and canonise Abe Lincoln for it. Watch them give awards to Imperialist shite like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Watch them sideline films which challenge the mainstream like JFK, Redacted and Rendition. And then clap them when they talk about freedom of expression. If you can do that you can win dozens of Oscars.
For perfect tuition on this subject review George Clooney’s Oscar acceptance speech.
This rule overrides most other circumstances. A comedian could die and win. A gay man maybe. When Heath Ledger won a (richly deserved) Oscar playing in a fantasy/sci-fi film, it was unfortunately only because he died. You don’t win for “non-serious” movies usually. (See: neglect of Lord of the Rings cast).
This comes with a sacrifice of course, and not just the obvious one (you know, being dead). You will change. Dying in Hollywood is a spa with only one treatment:
The image exfoliation. After this you will never have done any wrong. Your sins will be washed away by the montage of smiley photos they use for your section of the obit-reel at the Oscars. Portrayed as a victim of circumstance or a troubled soul besieged by inner demons. A spiky 3D character ironed into a photoshopped headshot and hung on the wall of Grauman’s Chinese Theater as a barely heeded warning of the burden of fame.
After a decent amount of time they’ll make a movie about you. Whoever plays you will probably win an Oscar.