How to Win an Academy Award?

How to win an Oscar: Top 10 tips on scoring an Academy Award

Top 10 tips on scoring an Academy AwardMy Left Foot won Daniel Day-Lewis his first Oscar (Picture: Alamy)

Winning an Oscar isn’t easy, but here are some surefire rules on how to fast-track your path to Academy Award glory.

Have a disability

It might not have worked for Marion Cotillard (she played a legless wheelchair user in Rust and Bone) or John Hawkes (he played a quadriplegic in The Sessions) this year, but the general rule is playing people with disabilities or mental health issues is like catnip to voters at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Dustin Hoffman scooped the Best Actor gong in 1988 playing an autistic man who uses his remarkable memory to gamble up a storm in Rain Man.

This year’s favourite to win the prize, Daniel Day-Lewis, picked up his first Academy Award in 1989 playing Irish artist Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy, in My Left Foot.

In 1994, Tom Hanks was honoured for his role as the dimwitted simpleton Forrest Gump, while Aussie star Geoffrey Rush won best actor in 1997 for playing a piano prodigy who has a breakdown in Shine.

But it’s not just men who have got in on the act – Holly Hunter won best actress in 1993 for playing a mute pianist in The Piano while Angelina Jolie bagged an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role as a sociopath in Girl, Interrupted.

Schindler’s List was nominated for 12 Oscars (Picture: File)

Be in the Holocaust

Another surefire way to get voters’ attention is to be in a Holocaust film.

Steven Speilberg’s Schindler’s List, about a Nazi businessman who saves his Jewish workers, is the best example of this.

The film was nominated for 12 awards in 1993 and went on to win seven, including best director and best picture.

Meryl Streep received her second Oscar for 1982’s Sophie’s Choice, about a woman haunted by her time in a concentration camp, and Roman Polanski’s The Pianist won three awards in 2002 from the seven categories it was nominated in.

Schindler's List was nominated for 12 Oscars (Picture: File)As Kate Winslet once quipped during a guest stint on Ricky Gervais’ Extras: ‘ If you do a film about the Holocaust, [you’re] guaranteed an Oscar.

‘I’ve been nominated four times—never won. The whole world is going, “Why hasn’t Winslet won one?” That’s it. That’s why I’m doing it.

‘Schindler’s b***** List. The Pianist. Oscars coming out of their a**!’

She went on to finally win one for her performance in 2009’s The Reader, a film about the Holocaust.

Natalie Portman lost 20 pounds for her role in Black Swan (Picture: File)

Lose/gain weight

Robert De Niro famously put on an astonishing 60 pounds by binge eating during a trip around Northern Italy and France to play Jake La Motta in boxing classic, Raging Bull, winning him a best actor gong in 1981.

Hilary Swank piled on 19 pounds for her Oscar-winning role in Million Dollar Baby by eating every hour and a half and training six days a week for four hours a day.

George Clooney put on 35 pounds to win best supporting actor in 2006 for political drama Syriana.

But it’s not just piling on the pounds that’s Oscar bait, it’s getting rid of them too – Natalie Portman danced for up to eight hours a day to lose 20 pounds for her role in Black Swan. She was rewarded with an Ocsar in 2011.

Will it work for Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway this year?

Best actor nominee Day-Lewis lost weight to star in Lincoln while best supporting actress nominee Hathaway dropped 25 pounds for the role of tragic prostitute Fantine in Les Miserables.

Meryl Streep has been nominated for 17 Oscars during her career (Picture: PA)

Natalie Portman lost 20 pounds for her role in Black Swan (Picture: File)Be Meryl Streep

The mighty Meryl Streep holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations of any actor.

She’s been nominated 17 times during her career – 14 times for best actress and three for best supporting actress.

She’s won three so far with her 2012 win for The Iron Lady making her the fifth actor to receive three Academy Awards along with Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman and Walter Brennan. Katherine Hepburn won four during her career.

Will Daniel Day-Lewis make history tonight? (Picture: PA)

Be Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t do many films, but the ones he stars in usually come away laden with awards.

After his first Oscar win for My Left Foot, he also picked up a gong for There Will Be Blood in 2008 and is a dead cert to take home this year’s best actor prize for Lincoln.

If he does win, he’ll make history as the first star to win three best actor Oscars.

Day-Lewis has also won Oscar nominations for In the Name of the Father and Gangs of New York.

Colin Firth played George VI in The King’s Speech (Picture: Universal Pictures)

Play a real person

Biopics are Oscar gold. Most recently Colin Firth stuttered his way through The King’s Speech as George VI to win best actor in 2011.

Sean Penn took home the same accolade in 2009 for playing American gay rights activist Harvey Milk, while Forest Whitaker won in 2007 for his role as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the The Last King of Scotland.

File photo dated 26/2/2012 of Meryl Streep with the Best Actress award, received for The Iron Lady, at the 84th Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre, Los Angeles.Actresses who have scored an Oscar for playing real-life people include Charlize Theron as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster and Marion Cotillard in 2008 for her stirring performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose.

Helen Mirren, who played Elizabeth II in The Queen, won best actress in 2008 while Reese Witherspoon received the same award in 2006 for playing singer June Carter in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line.


Gorgeous Charlize Theron made herself look ugly for Monster (Picture: File)

Make yourself ugly

Actors are generally a gorgeous bunch, but the Academy wants to see some proof they’ve earned their award and the best evidence seems to be transforming themselves into someone ugly.

Charlize Theron wore liquid latex on her face and had freckles airbrushed on for her Oscar-winning role in Monster.

Nicole Kidman wore a prosthetic nose to play author Virginia Woolf in The Hours, which landed her the best actress prize in 2003.

Marion Cotillard shaved her eyebrows and hairline for La Vie en Rose and Hilary Swank chopped off her long blonde hair for Boys Don’t Cry.

Javier Bardem cut his hair into an unflattering bowl cut for No Country for Old Men, winning him a best supporting actor gong in 2008.

It’s worth noting that Hathaway has also gone down this route for Les Mis, after cutting off all her hair on camera.

Nicolas Cage won an Oscar playing a suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas (Picture: Film4)

If you’re a man, have an alcohol problem

Actors who play characters battling the booze are often rewarded for their on-screen struggles with a gold statuette.

Jeff Bridges drunk and slurred his way to an Oscar in 2010 by playing Otis ‘Bad’ Blake in Crazy Heart, while Nicolas Cage picked up best actor in 1996 for playing a suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas.

Other booze-loving performances that bagged an Academy Award include Humphrey Bogart’s gin-swilling boat captain in 1951’s The African Queen and John Wayne’s US Marshal in True Grit in 1969.

Erin Brockovich won Julia Roberts an Academy Award (Picture: Columbia)

If you’re a woman, be a single mum or prostitute

If you’re an actress, you need to show your pain and struggling on screen either by playing a single mother or a hooker.

Julia Roberts’ crusading single mum in Erin Brockovich won her the best actress Oscar in 2001, while Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce also tugged at the heartstrings of voters and Norma Rae bagged Sally Field an Oscar in 1980.

The first best actress Oscar went to Janet Gaynor, partly for her performance as a prostitute in Street Angel.

Other actresses who played hookers to Oscar-winning effect include Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8, Jane Fonda in Klute, and Charlize Theron in Monster.

Ben Kingsley received an Oscar playing Mahatma Gandhi (Picture: Columbia)

Play a character who dies

Ben Kingsley picked up an Oscar in 1983 playing famous peace activist Gandhi, who is assassinated at the end of the movie.

Roberto Benigni was sent off to his death in Life is Beautiful, winning him an Academy Award in 1998, while Kevin Spacey was shot dead in American Beauty and was rewarded with a best actor prize in 2000.

Will Daniel Day-Lewis make history tonight? (Picture: PA) Colin Firth played George VI in The King's Speech (Picture: Universal Pictures) Gorgeous Charlize Theron made herself look ugly for Monster (Picture: File) Nicolas Cage won an Oscar playing a suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas (Picture: Film4)
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