The 88th Academy Awards are this Sunday, and I am most excited for Leonardo DiCaprio to win his Oscar for his role in "The Revenant." Other than that, and seeing everyone I adore battle it out for best-dressed, I am just as excited to hear everyone’s acceptance speeches. It really is one of the most anticipated Academy Awards night traditions. It’s a glorious chance to drop for some push-ups, drop an F-bomb or coin a phrase we will still use 30 years from now.
However, it can also be one of the least-liked moments, particularly when a winner just rolls off a list of “thank yous.” This year, the producers behind the Academy Awards telecast are going to change that with a TV screen ticket that will list all the people stars care to thank that will run while the speech is given. And the speeches will have to top out at 45 seconds!
What I love most about thank you speeches is that it is a chance for us—the audience, the viewer, the fan—to see the winner in their natural state. It is in those two minutes that we get to see a different side of the person we are so used to seeing on the big screen, playing someone else. It is a chance for them to let us into their world and know what they are thinking in that exact moment.
The idea of making this glorious moment scripted bothers me more than you can imagine. Nominees will be asked to provide a list of the people they want to thank on cards ahead of the announcement, so the producers can be ready to roll the right names once the winner is announced. As you avid award show viewers know, there is a long list of winners who have totally forgotten their directors, husbands, wives and children. But honestly? That’s part of what makes acceptance speeches so great. It gives us something to laugh, cry or make GIFs from. It gives us a better idea of what the winner is really like.
Part of me gets it. Almost every time a film personality I truly admire—Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, whoever—has won an Oscar, I’ve said to myself, “Wow, I’d love to hear what he has to say about it.” I understand the disjointed paean to the contribution of their mothers, school-teachers and hair dressers can be a little ridiculous. (I remember someone thanking his parents for having him and his grandparents for having them!)
But as cliche as this is, this is what makes acceptance speeches so great and why we look forward to watching them. (Where would we be without Justin Bieber’s “I’d like to thank not only God but Jesus”?)
An acceptance speech should be more than a list of “thank yous,” I agree. A great proper speech should inspire, entertain, enlighten, move or otherwise engage the audience. But I will take the good with the bad any day.
One of the best was Meryl Streep’s when she won the Best Actress award for "The Iron Lady" in 2012: she was charming, self-deprecating, gracious and funny, all at the same time, starting out by saying, “When I heard my name being called out I could hear half of America saying, ‘Oh no, not her … again.'”
Tom Hanks won the Best Actor award for "Philadelphia" in 1993 and made a masterly speech—eloquent, passionate, thought-provoking and inspiring. In continuance of the film’s gay theme, he publicly honored two gay men, without whom, he said, he wouldn’t be standing there: his drama teacher, Rawley Farnworthy, and classmate, John Gilkerson.
One of the simplest, but one of my personal favorite speeches, was Mathew McConaughey’s when he won the Best Actor award for "Dallas Buyer’s Club" in 2013. He said that one thing he had learned, early on, is that there are three things one needs in life: someone to look up to, someone to look forward to and someone to chase. In other words, your own personal role model. It took him a long time, he said, to understand that the person he needed to chase was himself, 10 years from now. He was constantly chasing that person, he said but, by definition, would never ever catch up with him. Which, of course, is a wonderful philosophy of life, very succinctly presented.
Then, of course, you have the other speeches. The unprepared, candid and hate-to-love speeches. Jennifer Lawrence, for example, managed to fall head over heels on her way to the stage when she won the Best Actress award for "Silver Linings Playbook" in 2012. She picked herself up clumsily and uttered the immortal words, “You guys are all just standing because I fell. And that’s really embarrassing."
But arguably the best worst speech—in recent history, anyway—was James Cameron’s, when he won the Best Director award for "Titanic" in 1997. He came through as being bratty and obnoxious, ending up by shouting, “I am the KING OF THE WORLD! WOO-WOO-WOO!” Even the fact that his film had won 11 Oscars, the highest tally of all time (tying with "Ben Hur" in 1959) didn’t excuse his obnoxiousness.
If there’s one thing you can grab from all these speeches, it’s that they show us a side of the person that we normally do not get to see. So why take that away from us, Academy?