It seems everyone has a favorite Oscar speech. Last week I wrote a column suggesting four ways to streamline the speeches and give the behemoth Academy Awards broadcast some forward momentum. The response from readers indicates the speeches are one element of the show they would rather not see tampered with. Cut the musical numbers, shorten the opening monologue, kill the Price Waterhouse tribute — but don’t mess with the speeches. “The Academy Awards are about four things,” wrote Andrea from Toronto. “The shoes, the dresses, the jewelry and the speeches.”
It’s funny, I thought they were about the movies, but then again, the red carpet’s “glam cams” before the ceremony get more eyeballs than the show itself, so I guess Andrea has a point.
Some like emotional speeches. Gary in Halifax says his favorite Oscar moment came when Russell Crowe accepted best actor for Gladiator. “If you grow up in the suburbs of anywhere,” the actor said, wearing his grandfather’s MBE on his lapel. “A dream like this seems kind of vaguely ludicrous and completely unattainable, but this moment is directly connected to those imaginings. And for anybody who’s on the downside of advantage, and relying purely on courage, it’s possible.”
Others said they liked funny speeches. Brian in Toronto wondered which Oscar acceptance speeches made me laugh. I immediately thought of Geoffrey Rush, who accepted the best actor award for Shine with the words, “This is for all the people who were happy to bankroll the film as long as I wasn’t in it,” but settled on Paul Williams, the five-foot-two Best Song winner who said, “I was going to thank all the little people, but then I remembered I am the little people!”
Most agreed with me that the “thank yous” are an important component of any acceptance speech, but suggested that less is always more. Jen927 said that winners should just follow the lead of Julia Roberts and simply thank “everybody I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
The final word on Oscar acceptance speeches came from Claudio’s Blackberry who reminded me of host Danny Kaye’s 1952 joke, “The Academy asks that your speech be no longer than the movie itself.”
Hand me now already the statuette award.” With those dipsy doodle words Emil Jannings became the first Academy Award winner for Best Actor. It was a short and sweet speech which set the template for other loopy acceptance speeches to come—well, except for the short part.
Oscar speeches range from funny (“It couldn’t have happened to an older guy,” said 80-year-old George Burns of his Sunshine Boys win) to inflammatory (Michael Moore’s, “Shame on you Mr. Bush! Shame on you!” outburst) to bizarre (“I am so in love with my brother,” cooed Girl, Interrupted Best Supporting Actress Angelina Jolie) to heartfelt (“You like me!” yelped Sally Fields, “You really like me!”) and egotistical (“I would like to thank my colleagues,” intoned composer Dimitri Tiomkin, “Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, Richard Strauss”) but to make a really successful speech there just are four basic rules:
1. Keep it short: The show is long so you’ll be a hero if you keep your speech under 45 seconds. Take the lead from Jane Fonda, Best Actress for Klute, “There’s a great deal to say,” she said, “but I’m not going to say it tonight.”
2. Give Thanks: No man or woman is an island, so you have to thank someone (unless you are screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart who said “I am happy to report that I am entirely and solely responsible for the success of The Philadelphia Story”), but know where to draw the line. Find a happy medium somewhere between Jon Landau who thanked a laundry list of 45 people after Titanic’s Best Picture win and William Holden’s simple “Thank you” after he nabbed Best Actor for Stalag 17.
Also, remember to thank really important people. Don’t be like Hillary Swank who thanked everyone on the planet except her husband Chad Lowe when she won for Boys Don’t Cry.
3. Be memorable: This may be the biggest audience you’ll ever play to so say something unforgettable. More people remember Cuba Gooding Jr.’s exuberant Jerry Maguire speech than any of the movies he’s made since then and De Niro made headlines when he accepted his Best Actor Award for Raging Bull by thanking Jake LaMotta, “even though he’s suing us.”
4. Be Coherent: It’s an exciting moment, but don’t get rattled unless you want to see yourself all over the Net the next day sputtering nonsense. Jonathan Demme must regret using the word “uh” 40 times in his rambling acceptance speech for The Silence of the Lambs, and who knows what Laurence Olivier was thinking when he delivered a head-scratcher of a speech about “the first breath of the majestic glow of a new tomorrow” that left everyone in the audience baffled.
If every winner adhered to these few simple rules Oscar night could be a zippier, fun-filled affair instead of, as Johnny Carson joked, “Two hours of sparkling entertainment spread over four hours.”