‘Tis the season, but not just for Christmas trees, Hanukkah bushes, Festivus Poles, and interminable dinners with your family. Nope, with the end of 2011 rapidly approaching, it’s Oscar-Bait Season! So as you check out pretentious movies coming up this month with that date you’re trying to impress, keep an eye out for some of the following key points that, if trends of the last ten years’ worth of Academy Awards are anything to go by, will land a film that coveted Best Picture category:
1. WWII-era British royalty fighting…themselves
(The King’s Speech)
Pity poor Colin Firth–er, Prince Albert, Duke of York, future King George VI. Those damn Nazis wouldn’t be content with only taking over Germany, and his father’s death and brother’s abdication in pursuit of divorced American tail forced him to make a difficult confrontation. That’s right, he’s now expected to make rousing speeches, requiring him to face his lifelong stutter. Where’s Quentin Tarantino to inject a revisionistic punch to Hitler’s face from Albert’s fist when you need him?
(Chicago, Slumdog Millionaire)
Everybody loves a Broadway musical, and everybody in the States knows that the only movies that get made in India have a flamboyant song-and-dance number, even as a somewhat bizarre topper to stories about crushing poverty in the country’s ever-sprawling urban areas. Basically, if the movie’s got something that the Academy can snap its collective fingers to, it’s got Oscar potential. And given the lackluster lineup Hollywood’s put out so far this year, the Academy might risk being dubbed felt fetishists by showing The Muppets some of Oscar’s lovin’.
3. Token minority redemption
(The Hurt Locker)
“Oh, crap,” Academy bigwigs mumbled to themselves in 2009. “We’ve never given the golden phallus to a woman director (except in the bathroom at that seedy bar) or a woman director’s movie before. Aren’t they, like, the biggest minority group in America or something? Hey, didn’t James Cameron’s ex-wife do some movie about blowing shit up in Iraq? That’s not, like, too girly or anything, right?”
Kathryn Bigelow is an awesome director, and The Hurt Locker deserved to win way more than, say, Avatar did. Still, one can’t help but smell a desperate attempt to backpedal away from at least one -ism that the Academy’s been accused of.
4. Unresolved racial tensions
Nothing says racial harmony and getting along like ethnic slurs, sexual assault, and gang fights! Everybody sucks, and if we can only realize that we all suck in our own special, true-to-stereotype ways, we’ll finally be able to understand each other. Or not. It’s the Academy’s way of paying tribute to diversity without actually bestowing an Oscar on an actual minority.
5. Films that leave you feeling there’s no hope for humanity
(No Country for Old Men, The Departed, Million Dollar Baby)
Everybody. Dies. Or at least, everybody audiences come to care about. The Academy is either composed of sadists, masochists, or both, and rewarding these jaw-droppingly pessimistic movies is as close as they can get to showing off their fantasy life without digging out those compromising tapes.
ACTOR AND ACTRESS BAIT
As the great philosopher Kirk Lazarus states in Tropic Thunder, “Never go full retard.” So where should Oscar-sniffing actors and actresses put their efforts? According to trends of the last ten years, they are pretty well guaranteed a little golden dildo of their own if they are:
1. Knee-deep in crazy
(Natalie Portman in Black Swan, Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland, Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood)
The Academy loves teh ka-razy. Bonus points if it’s hot lesbians-going-down-on-each-other crazy, as seen in Black Swan, but any kind of crazy will do. It can be Day-Lewis’ murderously pro-capitalist, anti-religious flavor, Whitaker’s Idi Amin, or even the cracks clearly forming in the psyche of Denzel Washington’s corrupt cop in Training Day, but full or just partial crazy is Oscar gold. Since this one crosses gender lines, look for anyone going a little loony on screen this December, but pay extra careful attention if it involves girl-on-girl action. Because you were just going to avert your eyes during that part if you didn’t have an intellectual reason to watch it.
2. Knee-deep in ugly (women only)
(Charlize Theron in Monster)
When an actress dares to go walking in New York free of makeup, there’s got to be something wrong with her. Surely she’s sick or pregnant or something that only happens to common people! But when she dares to put on makeup not merely to look like her normal, all-naturally beautiful self, but to truly get into the minds of common toads like you, me, and serial killer Aileen Wuornos, that takes award-worthy dedication.
3. Embracing the Third Reich
(Kate Winslet in The Reader, Adrien Brody in The Pianist)
Unless you’re Inglourious Basterds and are therefore too awesome for this world and the Academy, rubbing elbows with SS uniforms or putting one on yourself is a surefire way to jerk tears and get the Academy to applaud your courage in being the latest in a series of actors to show, in your own way, how much the Holocaust sucked.
4. Being straight, playing gay
(Sean Penn in Milk, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote)
Making eyes at another dude when everyone knows you love the ladies takes some real effort. The Academy wants to reward actors for crossing that “no homo” line and going where few men dare. Just don’t go too far under the covers: Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall got nods for rustlin’ cattle doggy-style in a Wyoming tent, but the Academy seems to prefer its heroes sidestep their sex lives in favor of politicizing their sexuality.
5. Acting disabled
(Jamie Foxx in Ray, Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby)
With just a little help, anyone can overcome diversity–er, adversity! And what’s a greater adversity to overcome than being among the permanently wounded? Charlize Theron’s character could’ve gotten over that whole ugliness problem if she’d just gotten some plastic surgery, and all those crazies could’ve just taken their lithium, but there’s some real respect in Hollywood for those who got dealt a bad hand (or bad eyeballs).
(Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight)
Ledger gave a masterful, chilling performance as Batman’s persistent foe, the Joker. Still, given the Academy’s disdain for the comic book-y movies or, really, anything beloved by audiences, Ledger probably wouldn’t have grabbed the gold had he not been so dead. As far as the Academy’s concerned, when you’re cold, you’re hot! And no, Brett Ratner, career suicide does not count as a way to suck up to the hoi polloi.
Now that you’re armed with this checklist, go forth and start your own Academy Award betting pool at the office. Or if you’re tapped out from Fantasy Football, just use it as the basis for a drinking game. Actually, given the uninspiring lineup of movies yet to come, go straight for option # 2.
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Written by Bree Kornblum Katz (@breekatz)
Bree writes when she is not skiing off cliffs, facing down funnel clouds, or plumbing the depths of the internet. She's published short stories with Dead Dog Press, Six Sentences, and BlazeVOX and currently blogs about her hair-raising experiences in the Rocky Mountains at extremetothemax.com. She's still waiting on her… More »
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