By Ben Cramer
When it comes to Oscar Sunday, the acceptance speech is crucial. At times the pressure is so great that it seems as if the academy will take back the statue if the star falls short of perfection. The speech says much about a celebrity’s personality. With over 85 years of Academy Awards ceremonies, there are many extremely well-done speeches.
The shortest usually make the best speeches. They contain a profound and genuine sense of gratitude with an added layer of levity.
The most cliched part of an unfavorable speech is the line, “I wasn’t expecting this so I didn’t prepare a speech.” Every nominee should prepare something to say.
Nearly all of the Oscar speeches are on YouTube. The great ones are memorable because the winners were thankful, joyful, and proud to have deserved such an honor.
The arguably greatest actor and actress of our generation gave wonderful speeches in recent years. Meryl Streep’s won her third statue for The Iron Lady. She opened her speech saying, “When they called my name I’d had this feeling I could hear half of America going ‘oh no…oh c’mon…why…her…again?’ But whatever.” The flippancy in her voice made audiences laugh. She closed with profound words of affirmation to all aspiring actors and actresses.
The next year, Meryl would hand out the Best Actor award to actor Daniel Day Lewis. His speech was filled with levity and gratitude as well. He joked that he was the first choice to play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl Streep was Spielberg’s first choice to play Lincoln.Christopher Plummer
Christopher Plummer, best known as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, also won an Oscar (Supporting Actor) in 2011 for Beginners. It was his first win in his 55 year career. He admiringly looked at his statue and saying, “You’re only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?”
He went on to joke by saying he had been preparing his speech when he was in his mother’s womb, then the gratitude kicked in. He acknowledged the other four nominees, and praised the director Mike Mills, Ewan McGregor, and loved ones. It was quite the acceptance speech, and future Oscar winners should use his as their template.
Two of the best speeches come from two of the most highly regarded men in Hollywood today: Tom Hanks and Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman won Best Actor in 1980 for Kramer vs Kramer and in 1989 for Rain Man. Hanks won Best Actor back to back in 1994 and 1995 for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Their first acceptance speeches are highly memorable. Hoffman blew everyone away with his candidness and sheer sincerity. He didn’t only acknowledge the other nominees (Al Pacino, Roy Scheider, Jack Lemmon, and Peter Sellers), but rather lauded everyone in the acting industry for their determination and ambition to make movies. He humbled himself by thanking the Academy despite his criticism of it early in his career. Best of all, he made two jokes to start the speech that must be seen on YouTube. Quoting him won’t do it justice.
Tom Hanks’ speech was remarkable in its own right. He proudly affirmed the people in his life who impacted his acting career and defended those fighting homophobia and the AIDS epidemic. He said, “I know that my work [in this case] is magnified by the fact that 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. God bless you all. God have mercy on us all. And God bless America.”
To end it with “God bless America” was icing on the cake of perfection. This year’s Oscars was very surprising as not a single speech went over the time limit. How refreshing! They all must have taken a few tips from the best of the best, like Mr. Hanks and Mr. Hoffman.