10 Ways to Win an Oscar

Get fat, go ugly, play a Nazi—Jeff Bridges, Mo’Nique, and Christoph Waltz are Oscar locks because they channel a type. VIEW OUR GALLERY of sure-fire ways to win an Oscar.

Get fat, go ugly, play a Nazi—Jeff Bridges, Mo'Nique, and Christoph Waltz are Oscar locks because they channel a type. These are the sure-fire ways to win an Oscar.

Play a famous person

Academy voters do not love comedy. "We are still puritans," explains Jeanne Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies and Founder and Curator of The Cinema Archives at Wesleyan University, "burdened by the sense that we're the new guys on the block. In order to prove that we're as good as the Europeans we must be deadly serious." One way to do this is to morph seamlessly into an important historical figure. If they were assassinated, overcame extreme hardship, or have a really tricky speech pattern, even better.

Be Physically / Mentally disabled

Nothing says transformation quite like a fabulously fit and well-spoken actor playing someone who's not all there. Should you mimic the physical habits of the autistic, blind, mute, or paralyzed to the likings of your fellow Academy voters, you have an excellent shot of going home with the gold.

Speak with a funny accent

What says range better than being able to take on an accent (or speaking mannerism) not your own? From Meryl Streep's spot-on Polish-isms to Sean Penn and Philip Seymour Hoffman's lisps in Milk and Capote, these actors were all rewarded for their ability to play against type.

Be Old

This year’s frontrunner for Best Actor is Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. The movie was not really a favorite among Academy voters or critics, but it was another virtuoso performance from an actor who’s been around for a long time and has never taken home the gold. Should he win, it will be the latest example of an old tradition: honoring a performance in the second part of a career or giving it to a person making a grand return after years in the wilderness.

Play gay / transgendered

Hollywood may not have any openly gay movie stars, but they do reward actors who've displayed homosexual (or transgender) tendencies onscreen. It's a sign of range. If you're a famously straight guy like Sean Penn, nothing says you've stretched your boundaries quite so much as a big onscreen kiss with James Franco.

Get fat, go ugly

As Basinger notes, the Academy loves a role that shows you have range. "If you're beautiful, we can't trust that," she says. "If you're playing the same role, we can't trust that." The Academy particularly loves a woman who'll play a prostitute or a nun, because it's the opposite of what a movie star's image is supposed to be. "Take off the makeup," the professor says. "Get the false eyelashes off. We seldom give Oscars to glamorous women in lamé, doing comedy." And of course, if you're a man, pile on the pounds, get your face smashed up like Mike Tyson, and get a really, really bad haircut. That can work wonders.

Be a monster

Playing a serial killer or an otherwise deplorable human being with sociopathic tendencies has long been a way to get in the good graces of Academy voters. "We want to see the extreme," says Basinger. "We're not sure our actors are acting unless they go over the top. If they play a serial killer or a madman, then we're sure. We feel comfortable."

Experience the Civil War or Holocaust

Barring some sort of last minute disaster, Christoph Waltz will take home a little gold man this year for his scene-stealing performance as a Nazi in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. Giving it to him may not be undeserved, but the success of his performance with voters also has to do with the fact that while most Americans hate Nazis in real life, we love them onscreen. At the Golden Globes last year, after Kate Winslet claimed her prize for playing a German prison guard in WWII, Ricky Gervais took to the stage and said, "Well done, Winslet. I told you, do a Holocaust movie and the awards come, didn't I?" Several weeks later, she won the Oscar as well.

Play the piano

Popular American musical tastes may veer more towards Britney Spears than Mozart, but the academy loves a thespian who can play the keys. See for yourself.


The academy loves straight guys that go gay, movie stars that play prostitutes or nuns, and films where actors play pianos and experience major strife like the Civil War or the Holocaust (preferably in a biopic). But nothing says we're serious quite like a grand finale. In other words, if you really want to win an Oscar, die onscreen. Favorite methods employed include: Alcohol poisoning, lethal injection, death by Nazis, double suicides, political assassinations, and gay bashings.