10 Surefire Ways to Score Oscar Recognition, the Sequel

PHOTO Clockwise from top left: Scenes from "Avatar," "Precious," and "The Blindside" are shown.Courtesy Lionsgate/AP Photos
Clockwise from top left: Scenes from "Avatar," "Precious," and "The Blindside" are shown. ABCNews.com explores 10 ways a movie can make the Academy swoon.

The nominees may change, but the formula remains pretty much the same.

Last year, ABCNews.com debuted our list 10 surefire ways to score Oscar recognition. As expected, the Academy awarded its perennial favorites: the feel good film ("Slumdog Millionaire"), the straight guy playing gay (Sean Penn), the woman in the Holocaust movie (Kate Winslet) and the dead actor (Heath Ledger).

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With a fresh crop of nominees, we've taken out a few non-applicable cliches and added some new ones. After all, there are more than 10 ways to gain Oscar recognition -- just ask Meryl Streep, who's been nominated for Hollywood's top trophy a record 16 times.

Below, check out ABCNews.com's updated list of 10 ways a movie can make the Academy swoon, and see which of this year's nominees might bag a coveted statue.

1. Make a Movie About the Holocaust

The academy loves history, and few periods lend themselves to drama more than Nazi-era Germany.

Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" won seven Academy Awards in 1994, including best picture. "The Counterfeiters," a 2006 film about a Nazi plot to financially destabilize the United Kingdom, won Austria its first Oscar by scoring the best foreign language film award. Last year, "The Reader," about a Nazi war crimes trial, picked up five nominations and star Kate Winslet took home the best actress award.

This year, Adolf Hitler might roll over in his grave if Christoph Waltz, aka "The Jew Hunter" in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds," doesn't take home the best supporting actor Oscar. Considering he swept the critics' awards circuit and scored a Golden Globe and a SAG for playing a Nazi boss, the academy might as well ship their trophy to his mantel.

2. If Not the Holocaust, Make It a Period Piece

As noted, Oscar voters veer toward films with historical grounding. Elizabethan England has fared well with the academy -- 1998's "Shakespeare in Love" won seven Oscars, including best picture and best actress; 1998's "Elizabeth" and its 2007 sequel, "Elizabeth: the Golden Age," both scored a slew of major nominations and won awards for makeup and costume design, respectively.

20th century history also works -- depression-era films "Cinderella Man" (2005) and "Changeling" (2008) picked up three nominations each. This year, "Julie and Julia," "A Single Man" and "An Education," with their 1950s and '60s aesthetics, fit the mold.

3. Cast a Character Who Gets Raped

The rape victim: disturbing and dramatic, it's the ultimate role for a rising star.

Jodie Foster proved it in when she won the best actress Oscar in for playing gang rape victim Sarah Tobias in 1988's "The Accused." Hilary Swank upped the ante when she scored the same award for playing a transgender man who gets raped in 1999's "Boys Don't Cry."

Hollywood newcomer Gabourey Sidibe put her career on the fast track by taking her first major role as the title character in "Precious" -- an obese, illiterate teen whose father rapes and impregnates her, twice.

Now, after receiving a slew of critics circle awards, Sidibe's sitting pretty in the Academy's best actress category. While she may not beat out leading contenders Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep, earning an Oscar nomination for a debut role deserves its own round of applause.

4. Make a Straight Actor Play Gay

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.

5. Make a Hot Actress Not Hot

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.

6. Throw Out the Actors and Actresses Altogether

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.

7. Turn a Best selling Book Into a Movie

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.

8. Put the Popular Actress in an Out-of-the-Box Role

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.

9. Make It About Music

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.

"Crazy Heart" is the Academy's latest music motion picture fixation. Based on country legend Hank Thompson, the vilm is up for best actor (Jeff Bridges) best supporting actress (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and best original song ("The Weary Kind.")

10. Make It the 'Feel-Good Movie of the Year'

Sometimes the Oscar goes not to the film that was the most aptly acted, the most visually stunning, the most precisely directed or the most well written. Sometimes, it goes to the movie that simply made everyone go "Aww!" at the end, like "Forrest Gump" in 1995, like "Titanic" in 1998 and "Slumdog Millionaire" in 2009.

This year, it's between "Avatar" and "The Blind Side." While "The Blind Side" has the saccharine-sweet formula down pat, "Avatar" has something to add to the "Aww!" factor -- the "Ooh," as in "Ooh, look at those blue 3-D things." Which breathless expression will prevail? Tune in March 7 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC to find out.

Go to Oscar.com for Oscar coverage before, during and after the awards.