7. Be the protege among the vets. Pint-sized Hailee Steinfeld held her own In "True Grit," flanked by Hollywood heavyweights Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin and Matt Damon. The 14-year-old breakout star scored a best supporting actress nomination for her turn as Mattie Ross, a vengeful teen seeking justice for her father's death in the Wild West. Don't underestimate the power of a previously unheard-of starlet: Tatum O'Neal won the best supporting actress Oscar for "Paper Moon" at age 10 and Anna Paquin won the same award for "The Pianist" at age 11.
8. Feature an art. The academy has a soft spot for the finer things in life. Take classical music -- "Amadeus," the biopic about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, won eight Oscars in 1985. Martial arts, too -- "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" scored four statues in 2001. This year, it's all about pirouettes and plies, with the ballet thriller "Black Swan" nominated for 12 awards.
9. Make it otherworldly. Suspension of disbelief: It's hard to pull off, but when a movie succeeds in making the viewer buy into aliens or alternate realities, the academy often doles out the gold guys. Last year, "Avatar" crossed the boundaries of space, dimension and technology to win three Oscars, including best picture. Previously, "Aliens," "Star Wars" and "E.T." enjoyed similar success. "Inception" joins them as another not-of-this-universe mind-bender; it's nominated for eight awards.
10. Make it a sign of our times. It used to be that the Academy veered toward period pieces (in the vein of "Shakespeare in Love") biopics (a la "Gandhi") and epics (hello, "Rocky"), not films that portrayed today. Times, they are a changing. Two of last year's best picture nominees -- "The Hurt Locker," which won the award, and "Up in the Air" -- told stories rooted in the present. This year, "The Social Network" carries on their legacy, with a totally 21st century topic (Facebook) and eight Oscar nominations to status update about.