Mugging For OscarsĀ®

17 February 2010 by Matt Risley

The Soloist 01The Soloist - music to the studio's ears, if not the audiences'.Bagging an Academy award is inarguably the most career-defining moment of any actors' life.

So it's no surprise that with every year that passes, more and more respected filmmakers and actors are turning to shameless Academy-baiting tactics to ensure a win.

However, what is a surprise is how blatantly obvious and laughable subsequent attempts are becoming, because - as all good film fans know - a movie doesn't need to be great to win an Oscar.

And in ensuring that each and every generic, audience emotional button is pushed, the criteria needed to secure a shiny toilet-adorning statuette is easy to spot and more cliched than ever.

Blame George Lucas.

Forrest Gump 11Mental Disability? Check.The 'New Hollywood Movement' of the late 60s/early 70s - a trend towards counterculture subject matter and an increasingly realistic tone - was on the way out, while the flashy, special effects fun-filled family friendly cinema of Lucas and Spielberg crept its way into the social consciousness.

As flashiness replaced substance across the box office, the awarding of the biggest prizes in the movie industry began to stray more and more towards movies with serious, emotionally manipulative 'credible' stories to ensure the viewer was really hooked in.

First and foremost is Tom Hanks Syndrome, AKA the tendency to portray a mentally challenged or disabled character - usually 'based on real events' - who overcomes tremendous adversity to win the moral high ground.

Tropic Thunder made a hilariously poignant case for the prosecution, with the running debate over whether to 'go full retard' or not. The argument being that playing a disabled character is guaranteed to bag you a statuette as long as you don't overdo it.

Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump) and Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man) Crazy Heart 03Semi-Biopic? Check.are both given as examples of actors who have won Oscars by playing characters who may appear to be disadvantaged, but whose charm and subtle cling to reality ground them enough to sway voters.

This tendency to gravitate towards 'challenging' roles has seen a whole slew of obvious Oscar baiters in recent years - The Soloist (homeless musical genius, based on real story, with two Oscar winners to boot), Adam (asperger's sufferer finds romance), Away From Her (dementia), Shine (genius pianist has a mental breakdown), Yentl (oppressed Jewish girl dresses and lives like a man to receive a Jewish education).

And if the physical debilitation doesn't work, there are a whole host of other Oscar favourite tactics you can choose to apply (known colloquially online as 'Oscarbation').

Any kind of biopic - one that preferably 'immerses' the actor in the role to the point of ugliness (Charlize Theron in Monster) works a treat, as do loosely metafictional performances by older actors, as characters who have passed their prime (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler, Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart).

the readerHolocaust Movie? Check.Heavy emotional topics also work wonders - deadly diseases (Philadelphia), bigotry (Milk), the destruction of the nuclear family (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road), and heart-tugging altruistic survivor guilt (Seven Pounds) are immediately in with a shout, and if you can manage to involve previous Oscar winners (in production, direction and acting) then your chances are increased immeasurably.

Finally, there's the role that manages to mix several of these tropes together - the (sometimes) biopic, based on traumatising real-life events, in which the downtroddenMoet-LogoSponsored by... overcome terrible adversity.

Kate Winslet's now prophetic and infamous line in an episode of Extras hits the not-so-subtle nail on the head.

"I don't think we really need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It's like, how many have there been, you know? We get it. It was grim. Move on. No, I'm doing it because I've noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust you're guaranteed an Oscar ... That's why I'm doing it. Schindler's bloody List. The Pianist. Oscars coming out of their arse."
Kate Winslet (Winner of the 2008 Best Actress Oscar for Holocaust drama The Reader), Extras


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