10 Surefire Ways to Score Oscar Recognition

This year's contenders are wooing the academy with tried and true tactics.

ByABC News
February 2, 2009, 8:30 AM

Feb. 2, 2009 — -- Daniel Day-Lewis in "My Left Foot." Tom Hanks in "Philadelphia." Gwyneth Paltrow in "Shakespeare in Love." All are Academy Award winners; all fit into a set of unwritten criteria believed to be the Oscar "type."

Yes, like women who veer toward bad boys and men who seek out trophy wives, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a type. And if filmmakers play to it, they have a surer shot at scoring the most prestigious trophy in the industry.

This fact becomes the stuff of spoof during Oscar season. On a recent episode of NBC's "30 Rock," the self-absorbed Jenna Maroney wailed about wanting to win an Oscar playing a disabled version of '60s crooner Janis Joplin: "The academy loves dead singers and the handicapped, and Janis was both!"

Insensitive? Perhaps. But entirely off base? No.

Looking at the roster of Oscar-winning films, it's easy to come up with a checklist of criteria capable of wooing academy voters.

Below, check out ABCNews.com's take on 10 ways movies can win an Oscar -- or at least get nominated for the award -- and see how this year's crop of contenders might fare.

Jenna Maroney was right -- more often than not, if an able-minded, able-bodied actor can convince audiences he or she is otherwise, the academy will bow down. Leonardo DiCaprio scored his first Oscar nomination for playing the mentally handicapped brother of Johnny Depp's character in 1993's "What's Eating Gilbert Grape."

"Milk" nominee Sean Penn earned his third Oscar nod for playing a mentally handicapped father in 2001's "I Am Sam."

Billy Bob Thornton won a best adapted screenplay Oscar for "Sling Blade," about a mentally disabled man jailed for murder.

"Tropic Thunder," this year's Oscar-nominated satire about the movie industry, uses Penn's "I Am Sam" loss to illustrate the phenomenon. Kirk Lazarus, played by Robert Downey Jr., points out several not-so-politically-correct examples to explain to Ben Stiller's Tug Speedman why his over-the-top performance as a mentally challenged man didn't bring home an Oscar:

Kirk Lazarus: "Everybody knows you never do a full retard."

Tugg Speedman: "What do you mean?"

Kirk Lazarus: "Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, 'Rain Man,' look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Count toothpicks to your cards. Autistic. Sure. Not retarded. You know Tom Hanks, 'Forrest Gump.' Slow, yes. Retarded? Maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and he won a ping-pong competition. That ain't retarded. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. Don't believe me? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, 'I Am Sam.' Went full retard. Went home empty handed."

Also, it should not go unnoticed that in real life, Downey, who is white and American, has been nominated in the best supporting actor category for his turn as the multiple Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus, a white Australian playing a black man.