It worked for "Brokeback Mountain." The 2005 film about gay cowboys starring straight Hollywood heartthrobs Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, won three Oscars and was widely favored to take home best picture, but lost to "Crash."
Last year, Sean Penn bagged a best actor Oscar by playing Harvey Milk, America's first openly homosexual elected official. Now, it could be Colin Firth's turn. The British actor, best known for playing Mr. Darcy in pretty much every screen adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" ever (that's only a slight exaggeration), stars as a gay man secretly grieving over the death of his lover in "A Single Man." If the Academy follows the same logic as last year, the best actor Oscar is his.
It's the "take me seriously" syndrome: Often, to score an Oscar, the industry's most attractive actresses put their looks on the chopping block in the name of their craft. Hilary Swank turned transgender for "Boys Don't Cry;" Charlize Theron stripped off her makeup for "Monster;" both won best actress Oscars.
On the red carpet, best supporting actress contender Anna Kendrick looks radiant, but you'd never know it from the movie that got her nominated. In "Up in the Air," Kendrick plays a prim and proper corporate idealist who's as devoted to her job as she is to her bland skirt suits and severe ponytail.
They're just so much work, stars and their egos. And an A-list cast isn't necessary to get that coveted best picture nomination.
1991's "Beauty and the Beast" broke ground as the first and only animated film to be nominated for Oscar's top award -- that is, until "Up" scored a nomination this year. James Cameron's CGI monster hit "Avatar" joins "Up" in the best picture category this year, and while the film does make use of flesh-and-blood actors like Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington, it's the technology that's getting all the attention.
Why come up with a new story when so many good ones have already been written?
The best adapted screenplay category speaks to this theory -- if it was riveting in print, it'll be mind-blowing on screen. Best picture winners "Slumdog Millionaire," "No Country for Old Men," "A Beautiful Mind" and "The Silence of the Lambs" were all based on books. Literature factors prominently into the 2010 Oscar contenders -- six-category nominee "Precious" is based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire; Stanley Tucci earned a best supporting actor nomination for the film version of Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones," and Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air," an adaptation of Walter Kim's novel, is nominated in six categories.
Cast America's sweetheart in a "challenging" role and watch the awards roll in.
Cases in point: Gwyneth Paltrow in "Shakespeare in Love," Julia Roberts in " "Erin Brockovich," Sally Field in "Norma Rae." Poised to join their ranks: Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side," for which she's already scored a Golden Globe and a SAG.
The music bio-pic: it's like a drug to the Academy. "Walk the Line," "Ray," "La Vie En Rose," "Shine," "Amadeus" -- all based on musicians, all Oscar winners.