By now, you've all probably seen commercials for The Soloist: Jaime Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., mentally imbalanced musical genius, friendship that transcends differences, yada yada yada. Between the storyline, the high caliber of actors involved and the talent behind the camera, it's as if someone was trying to craft the quintessential Oscar movie. And even though the year is only one-third over, you just know that the folks over at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are already engraving the plaques on a bunch of their awards, knowing full well that this movie will surely sweep all categories. Is The Soloist the most gratuitously Oscar-friendly movie ever? We think so, and we think it offers aspiring filmmakers a sure-fire recipe for garnering awards. Follow these instructions, and you'll be hugging Daniel Day-Lewis backstage in no time.
1. Music + Mental Disorders = Magic
Mental disorders are like the nectar of the Oscar Gods (I Am Sam), as is music (Ray, The Piano, The Pianist). Together, it's a match made in self-congratulatory industry award Heaven. The plot of The Soloist -- a genius musician with a mental disability is living on the streets until a writer draws him back into society so he can perform again -- bears a strong resemblance to an earlier Oscar darling, Shine. The 1996 Geoffrey Rush movie about a pianist who suffers a mental breakdown and makes a triumphant comeback earned Rush an Oscar, and earned nominations in nearly a dozen other categories. So we can only imagine that some Hollywood producer read the series of real-life articles by Steve Lopez in the LA Times, and thought, "Holy crap! I need to buy the rights to these stories and make another Shine, this time without all of those goddamn Australians in it!"
2. Let the Writer Who Won In
Award-winning journalists make great sources for material -- the stories are all based on real-life, which makes them both more poignant and moderately criticism-proof. But don't let them adapt their own work into a screenplay -- if you want an Oscar-quality script, hire an Oscar-nominated writer. Susannah Grant received a nod for her script for Erin Brockovitch -- which was also based on a true story -- and has been writing heartstring-tugging scripts since then, with In Her Shoes and 28 Days under her belt. We're sure the script for The Soloist is the most heartstring-tuggingest of them all.
3. But What You Really Want to Do is (Hire an Oscar-Nominated) Direct(or)
When looking for a director who will earn you an Oscar, it's important to get someone who has delivered the goods, or at least come close. Sometimes the latter is preferable, to avoid "spreading the wealth" syndrome and capitalize on "he shoulda won last time" sympathy votes. The Soloist's director, Joe Wright, directed Keira Knightley to a Best Actress nomination in Pride and Prejudice, and directed a 14-year-old girl to a Best Supporting Actress nomination in Atonement. Keira Knightley and a 14-year-old! That's pretty amazing. Wright has yet to earn a Best Director nod, but Atonement received a Best Picture nomination, and if that bucket of overindulgent tripe can receive such accolades, then surely The Soloist can actually seal the deal and win the damn thing.
4. Don't Get Creative With the Casting
When you need elegant cad, you hire Jude Law. When you need a practical beauty, you hire Julia Roberts. And when you need an African American musician, you hire Jaime Foxx. The man got a Best Actor win for playing Ray Charles in Ray, and a Best Supporting Actor nod that same year for playing an L.A. taxi driver in Collateral. So not only does he know music and handicaps, he also knows the streets of Los Angeles! And Robert Downey Jr. has made a comeback of almost Mickey Rourke proportions, receiving his nomination for his supporting role in Tropic Thunder 16 years after he was nominated for Best Actor for playing Charlie Chaplin. If you're looking for a jaded intellectual, you can't really do better.
5. Release Date, Release Date, Release Date
Most awards-bait movies like to come out at the end of the year, so they're fresh in everyone's mind, but then you end up with two dozen deep, heavy films hitting in the same three weekends in December. If you can come out earlier in the year, at a time when there aren't a lot of Oscar-worthy films out, you can cement yourself a nice little rep with the right audience, take advantage of a little word-of-mouth, and then put the DVD in renters' hands when it comes time to nominate. For instance, Soloist comes out in the same weekend as Fighting (about dudes hitting each other over money) and Obsessed (about women hitting each other over dudes) and the effects-driven summer movie season starts the following week, with the new X-Men movie. Where is the intellectual cinéaste to turn? It's counter-programming at its finest!
How many Oscars do you think The Soloist will win? Count 'em off below.