For as long as I can remember, staying up late to watch the Oscars have been a thing – the dresses, showmanship, the speeches. From those tween year when my mum would nag me to go to bed to early-2os in London when my access to La La Land’s greatest show of the year was on a shared 36 inch TV in the shared lounge, I have spent that last Sunday of February eyes glued to the TV until the end of the show, fascinated by the pomp and circumstances of that one night in the year dedicated to the best of Hollywood talent.
Before the age on E! Entertainment which brought the red carpet into our rooms, the show still trumped the frocks and the highlights were the acceptance speeches. Despite all the talk that, being nominated is as huge an honour as winning, let’s face it, on the night we only care about the winners, and the nuggets of wisdom, sweet sentiments or political rants they are set to share within their allocated time clutching the little golden statuette for dear life.
Make no mistake, speeches are no small feat and one lousy speech or mushy mumblings of gratitude (We are looking at you, Gwyneth Paltrow!) can completely overshadow the talent which scored the actor their moment of triumph in the first place. Then there are those, who are all poise and pace, delivering words of wisdom or gratitude with such grace that we remind these speeches for years to come, perhaps more so that the movie or the part that got them the Oscar.
That infectious laugh she had us at since the days of Pretty Woman enthralled the audience on the night at the 2001 Academy Awards as she aced the Oscar for her role in Erin Brokovich. She went on the advise the conductor whose job it was to cue the music at the end of the speech that she might be a while “Sir, you’re doing a great job, but you’re so quick with that stick, so why don’t you sit. I may never be here again.” Halfway through her long list of thanks, she once again turned her attention to the conductor with “Stick man, I see you!” before bursting out with laughter adding, “I love it up here!” before ending her speech with “I love the world. I’m so happy. Thank you!” What a graceful and fun acceptance speech.
Dressed in her Prada beautiful Nairobi blue gown, as the hottest star the year had seen, as Lupita N’yongo accepted her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in 12 Years A Slave in 2014, she spoke to every single little child when she said, “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid” launching a million memes with her face and this poignant quote before the end of the night.
Taking Best Actor award in 1994 for his role Philadelphia, Hanks thanked his wife, praised his co-stars and accidentally outed his high-school drama teacher before ending with a poignant tribute:
“The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. We know their names. They number a thousand for each one of the red ribbons that we wear here tonight. They finally rest in the warm embrace of the gracious creator of us all. A healing embrace that cools their fevers, that clears their skin, and allows their eyes to see the simple, self-evident, common sense truth that is made manifest by the benevolent creator of us all and was written down on paper by wise men, tolerant men, in the city of Philadelphia two hundred years ago.”
Accepting her Oscar in 2010 for Best Actress for her part in Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side was her quirky, cool self as ever. “Did I really earn this or did I just wear you all down?” she asked as soon as she grabbed her Oscar before going on to recognise other talented women nominated for the awards, thanking those who’d shown her “kindness when it wasn’t fashionable” and remembering those who were mean to her when it wasn’t including one George Clooney who threw her in a pool years ago. She ended her speech thanking “mums who take care of babies and children no matter where they come from” and thanking her mother for “reminding her daughters that there’s no race, no religion, no class system, no color, nothing, no sexual orientation that makes us better than anyone else. We are all deserving of love.”
Cuba Gooding Jr.
Perhaps it wasn’t the most poised speech the Oscars had ever seen but it may have been one of the most soulful and endearing when Cuba Gooding Jr accepted his award for Best Supporting Actor in 1997 for his part in Jerry Maguire. “You cut away, I won’t be mad at you…” is how Cuba admitted defeat and accepted he was going to get a musical send-off even before he kicked off his speech and went on to thank, ummm, absolutely everybody even after the house band attempted to play him off.
First Best Actor winner in a foreign film since Sophia Loren almost 40 years ago, Italian actor Roberto Benigni celebrated his win for his part in Life is Beautiful by running up and down the centre aisle before making his was to the stage and finding out he had “used up all [his] English”. With what still remained he said, “I don’t know! I am not able to express all my gratitude because now my body is in tumult — because it is a colossal moment of joy so everything is really in a way that I cannot express. I would like to be Jupiter! And kidnap everybody and lie down in the firmament making love to everybody, because I don’t know how to express. It’s a question of love. You are really — this is a mountain of snow, so delicate, the suavity and the kindness, it is something I cannot forget, from the bottom of my heart.”
Common and John Legend
Political outcries on stage at the Oscars can be either a hit or miss but Common and John Legend hit the right note with their acceptance for their Best Song award for “Glory” from Ava DuVernay’s film Selma.
Common said: “Recently John and I got to go to Selma and perform ‘Glory’ on the same bridge that Dr. King and the people of the civil rights movement marched on 50 years ago. This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation. Now it’s a symbol of change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status.”
Legend added, “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago. But we say that Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now.”
We have seen many an Oscar speech get political, but we have seen none get as inspirational as Matthew McConaughey’s Best Actor acceptance speech in 2014 for Dallas Buyers Club. “There’s a few things, about three things to my count that I need each day. One I need something to look up to, another something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase,” is how the actor began his speech before thanking God he looks up to, to his family he looks forward to, and his hero who chases – himself. Fear not, as it is not as egotistical as it may sound.
Following a short anecdote, he summed up with, “So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero is always 10 years away. I’m never going to beat my hero. I’m not going to obtain that, I know I’m not. And that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.”
What an elegant speech Sidney Poitier’s was as he received the Honorary award in 2002. The icon summed up an era of struggle and civil right fight into a five-minute speech.
“I arrived in Hollywood at the age of twenty-two in a time different than today’s, a time in which the odds against my standing here tonight fifty-three years later would not have fallen in my favor. Back then, no route had been established for where I was hoping to go, no pathway left in evidence for me to trace, no custom for me to follow,” he began his speech.
Yet, here I am this evening at the end of a journey that in 1949 would have been considered almost impossible and in fact might never have been set in motion were there not an untold number of courageous, unselfish choices made by a handful of visionary American filmmakers, directors, writers and producers; each with a strong sense of citizenship responsibility to the times in which they lived; each unafraid to permit their art to reflect their views and values, ethical and moral, and moreover, acknowledge them as their own.”
He paid tribute to those who came by accepting his award “in memory of all the African-American actors and actresses who went before me in the difficult years, on whose shoulders I was privileged to stand to see where I might go.”