Cast a White Male as your lead.
This white male is preferably middle-aged, and a washed-up actor/musician/semblance of Greatness. Way back when, he was adored by the masses, but now, he wallows in alcoholism or general decrepitude.
He has a daughter from a previously failed relationship that now seeks him out in her teenage years. She dresses “too slutty for her age,” and although in high school, is played by a well-known actress in her twenties.
The premise of the movie: White Male is lost, confused, and hopeless in his middle age, searching to find himself again. An external impetus, be it his daughter or public demands for his return, have driven him to stage a comeback. A best friend figure hangs around to give him advice on getting back on his feet and getting laid. General patting of the back occurs.
A woman comes into the picture. She could be a counselor, a therapist, someone he meets serendipitously — either way, she’s an upstanding citizen, in stark contrast to White Male. She’s a fresh breath of air, a woman he could never have had back in his wild heydays. He pursues her — at first she resists his cowboy charms, but eventually she will be The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened To Me.
There will be struggles to pursue his goals again. He’s old, after all. “WHAT IS THE AMERICAN DREAM?!” he screams into the void. For dramatic effect, he will smash a mirror or throw a glass against the wall.
In the middle of the movie we may watch a montage in which he undergoes transformation. Namely, his unkempt hair and beard will become well-kept and shaved.
Finally, after overcoming countless obstacles, there is Pivotal Scene in which White Male must prove himself. He fails, much to the disappointment of his angsty daughter and woman he is interested in.
He questions himself. Woman encourages him and he tries once more. He prevails! The White Male prevails! He wins the adoration of his daughter and woman. All is well in the world again.
Such a formula will catapult you to critical acclaim.
Moreover, if you set said film during World War II and get rid of the daughter but keep the woman, and change the premise to something to do with heroism during the war, you are also likely to be attending the Academy Awards.
You can similarly do this with White Female as your lead. White Female can be going through a mid-life crisis and attempting to find herself, but she is no washed-up semblance of Greatness. However, beware: this will not garner nearly the same amount of attention as White Male will.
Things not to do:
Do not make a film about black people. Unless it is about slavery, because the Academy recognizes that slavery was a really, really bad thing. Slavery and the Holocaust. Everything else has a moral gray area.
Do not make a film about women of color. Rarely are they relevant to awards season.
Do not make a film about gay people. Unless it is about the fight against HIV/AIDs. THe Academy eats that shit up.
Do not make a film that has to do with any country outside of America or Europe. Unless it is about the Middle East and how we are fighting wars and how our soldiers’ experienced things there.
If you follow all of these simple rules, you will soon be an Oscar-worthy member of the Academy.