It’s a question asked by countless film producers every year; how do I win an Oscar for Best Picture?
Eight films are in the running for the biggest accolade at the Academy Awards this Sunday, and each contender is very different.
Among the nominees for this year’s Best Picture are a film where a man is stuck on Mars (The Martian); a film where a woman is stuck in a room (Room); a film where a man is stuck in a permanent car chase (Mad Max: Fury Road); a film where a woman is stuck in Ireland (Brooklyn) and a film where a man is stuck inside a horse (The Revenant).
See? All very different.
But if you look through the Best Picture winners of the past 30 years – from Out of Africa to Birdman – patterns do emerge.
So we decided to dissect the information on those 30 previous winners and pinpoint what exactly makes a Best Picture.
The result is our own movie, complete with a title, a director, a cast, a setting, a genre and a running time, which we are hoping could go into pre-production immediately and make a tilt at the Academy Awards in 2018 – you read about it here first.
This is how we crunched the Oscar numbers to create our own Best Picture contender…
Here is what we’re working with; the list of the Best Picture winners released between 1985 and 2014 (this weekend’s Oscar contenders are 2015 releases). Let’s have a look at them in reverse chronological order:
1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
2. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
3. Argo (2012)
4. The Artist (2011)
5. The King’s Speech (2010)
6. The Hurt Locker (2009)
7. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
8. No Country for Old Men (2007)
9. The Departed (2006)
10. Crash (2005)
11. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
12. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
13. Chicago (2002)
14. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
15. Gladiator (2000)
16. American Beauty (1999)
17. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
18. Titanic (1997)
19. The English Patient (1996)
20. Braveheart (1995)
21. Forrest Gump (1994)
22. Schindler’s List (1993)
23. Unforgiven (1992)
24. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
25. Dances with Wolves (1990)
26. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
27. Rain Man (1988)
28. The Last Emperor (1987)
29. Platoon (1986)
30. Out of Africa (1985)
Before you ask, we’re going to call last year’s Best Picture by its simple name Birdman – the film is the only Best Picture winner in Oscars history to have parenthesis in its title.
To work out our movie’s length, we’re going to grab the average running time of the Best Pictures from the past 30 years. Can you guess which movies in that list help beef up that average?
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (201 mins)
2. Schindler’s List: (197 mins)
3. Titanic (195 mins)
4. Dances with Wolves (180 mins)
5. Braveheart (177 mins)
Only six of the 30 last Best Picture winners have a runtime under two hours. People hate on Driving Miss Daisy a lot – it’s often described as the worst Best Picture in history – but at least, at a mere 100 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
So no matter what happens, our proposed movie is going to be over the two-hour mark. Make sure you go to the loo beforehand.
John Ford has the most Best Director gongs in Oscars history with four, so he would be an obvious choice to helm our film, but he died in 1973. Dammit!
Of the more current crop of directors, it’s quite hard to narrow down a candidate – the past 21 winners of the Best Director Oscar have all been different, which is rather amazing.
There have been three double winners in the past 30 years – Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg. We’re going to have to hire one of them. But what we want is the director who has directed the most films that have also won Best Picture. And that’s Eastwood.
Because no one really knows what a director does, the Academy drools all over one particular type of director; the director who is also an actor.
Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson and Ben Affleck have all tasted success by combining the two roles.
Who do you think has starred in the most Best Picture winners recently? Clooney? Kidman? Day-Lewis? Streep?
Nope. Not even close. If we want our film to win Best Picture in 2018, we need to hire the guy who shares a first name with what you shout at your cat when you’re trying to usher it out of the kitchen.
We’re talking, of course, about Scoot McNairy, who broke through in Monsters and is soon to be seen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a terrific actor who has the midas touch when it comes to recent Best Picture winners.
He was in Argo in 2012 and 12 Years A Slave in 2013, both Best Pictures, and was cruelly denied a hat-trick last year by Birdman… although it was unlikely that Liam Neeson actioner Non-Stop was going to whet the Academy’s appetite in 2014 – the only award it was nominated for was a Golden Trailer. It didn’t win.
So we have to have Scoot McNairy, even in a cameo, because he’s a good luck charm. And if we can’t get Scoot McNairy, we have to bag John Goodman.
Before Scoot McNairy came along, there was John Goodman. Like McNairy, Goodman was in Argo, but he was also in the previous year’s winner, The Artist.
But, however brilliant both McNairy and Goodman are, they’re not A-list. We need some star power for our Oscars contender.
We could go with Morgan Freeman, as he has starred in three Best Pictures; Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby and Driving Miss Daisy, but he might be too old for the central role that usually secures Oscar glory.
The great Guy Pearce also has form, appearing in both The Hurt Locker and The King’s Speech. Tell the truth, you’d forgotten he was in The Hurt Locker, hadn’t you?
But to really increase our chances, we need to go British. And we’re not talking about Eddie Redmayne. He may have won Best Actor last year, but he’s yet to star in a Best Picture.
We need to go to two more established thesps; the company of Firth & Fiennes.
Colin Firth has been in three Best Picture winners; The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love and The King’s Speech.
Ralph Fiennes starred in Schindler’s List, The English Patient and The Hurt Locker. Tell the truth, you’d forgotten he was in The Hurt Locker, hadn’t you?
Firth… Fiennes… that will roll off the tongue nicely when reading the poster.
Sadly, what we won’t be doing is making a film that is built around a female lead role. A female character hasn’t been at the heart of a Best Picture since Million Dollar Baby in 2004, although Chicago, Titanic, Shakespeare in Love and The Silence of the Lambs all had juicy roles for women.
Meryl Streep has been in three Best Pictures, but Out of Africa in 1985 was the most recent, although the Academy loves her.
In the past few years, the likes of Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Viola Davis, Rooney Mara and Jessica Chastain have been battling for the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress awards, so we may need to cast one of them.
But the unfortunate truth is that Best Picture is a man’s world, and yes, before you ask and allude to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, it’s also a white man’s world.
When you cynically set out to make a Best Picture like we’re doing, you can’t just pick any old type of story.
What we can’t produce is a horror movie – only The Silence of the Lambs can be classed as such among the Best Picture winners of the past 30 years, unless you’re being particularly unkind to Forrest Gump.
Making our movie a musical is also out, as Chicago’s success at the 2003 ceremony was a one-off in the modern era.
People moan that comedies don’t win Best Picture and yet Birdman, Shakespeare in Love, Forrest Gump, The Artist and (unintentionally) The Departed all have laugh-out loud moments.
But in the end, we have to go with a drama. We can show a bit of adventure and a bit of laughter, but mainly we will be tugging at heartstrings.
While Middle Earth worked as a backdrop for the Oscars-laden The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Academy voters usually like to keep it real.
Which is distinct from keeping things contemporary – it is rare for a modern story to sweep home the Best Picture Oscar – Birdman was something of an anomaly in more ways than one last year.
This means we need to set our movie in the past – it can be the recent past; look at Argo – but it has to be the past.
Our hero – and yes, it is a hero not a heroine if we want to bag Best Picture – must overcome some kind of adversity. He must go from an underdog to a champion.
Argo is an underdog movie, as is Birdman in its own way, while The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Million Dollar Baby, The Return of the King, Gladiator, Titanic, Forrest Gump and Rain Man all feature a protagonist who battles against the odds and wins. Or drowns in icy waters after being selfishly excluded from a floating door that has PLENTY of room on it ROSE!!
And that hero can only have one name if we want to guarantee Oscar success. He has to be called… GEORGE.
Since 1985, there have been six actors nominated for Best Actor who played a character called George.
Peak George came between 2009 and 2011, when Firth (King George VI) and Jean Dujardin (George Valentin) both won awards for their Georges.
The year before winning for The King’s Speech, Firth had another George that lost out to Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart – George Falconer in A Single Man.
Now we get to the hard part.
To win Best Picture, you need a catchy title, but you also need a certain type of title. First, the number of words is important.
Of the 30 previous winners, 10 have three words in their title, 9 have just one word and 7 manage with two.
In that case, let’s opt (narrowly) for three words. And one of those words is going to be a ‘The’, because it pops up in 8 Best Picture successes.
But what do we put in that title after THE?
Answer? As many ‘A’s as we can. Almost every Best Picture has loads of ‘A’s.
12 yeArs A SlAve
It’s all about bringing your A game.
In the early ’90s, all a producer had to do to win Best Picture was stick an animal in the title (Dances with Wolves, The Silence of the Lambs), but that pattern died as quickly as it started.
Getting the main character’s name in the title is usually helpful – see Shakespeare in Love, Forrest Gump, Schindler’s List, Driving Miss Daisy, The King’s Speech and the Return of the King.
Apparently, it also helps if your main character is a king.
We’ve said it already, but what really works is if your main character is a man, so why not get ‘man’ in the title, like Rain Man, Birdman or even No Country For Old Men.
AND SO, AFTER CONSIDERING ALL OF THE ABOVE DATA, WE HAVE CREATED A MOVIE TO GO INTO PRODUCTION AND WIN THE BEST PICTURE OSCAR IN 2018.
AND HERE IT IS….
(Image by Myles Goode)
The Wham! Men looks pretty awesome, right?
It has Colin Firth as George Michael; Ralph Fiennes as Andrew Ridgeley; John Goodman as Elton John; Scoot McNairy as Bob Geldof and Meryl Streep and Viola Davis as pop duo Pepsi & Shirlie.
It will be directed by Clint Eastwood and will have a running time of 139 minutes, which is the average length of a Best Picture winner for the past 30 years.
Let’s look at why we ended up deciding to produce a movie about Wham! – the best band of the 1980s.
a) It’s got three words, a ‘The’, an ‘A’ and some ‘men’ in its title.
b) Its lead character is a guy named George.
c) We had to have Firth and Fiennes in the lead roles – they have five Best Pictures between them.
d) We want to create some history of our own; no film with an exclamation mark in its title has ever won Best Picture.
e) It’s the story of two friends who make it to the top, only to go their separate ways not long after Live Aid.
f) It’s a story set in the relatively recent past.
g) It’s a real life story.
h) The Wham! Men will set us up perfectly for the sequel that follows George Michael’s solo career. We think we might just call that one… FAITH.