With the 2009 Academy Awards just around the corner, many of us our dreading another night of long, pompous, stiffly prepared speeches that have turned the yearly awards broadcast into a Guantanamo-like torture device. But still, when there’s a chance to see Hollywood’s biggest superstars together in one room, it’s hard to believe that SOMETHING interesting won’t happen, and so, we watch.
A good Oscars acceptance speech usually isn’t the one that you’ve been preparing in front of your mirror since you got the lead in Peter Pan in elementary school. The best speeches are ones that come from the urge to do something spontaneous, funny, or shocking-off the cuff.
So, to the throngs of celebrities that I’m sure are closely following my opinions on what they should deliver in their Oscar speeches if they make it up on stage, here’s some advice: You should be yourself-your REAL self-the ugly, awkward, impulsive, bumbling self you really feel like inside. Real people like to see real people. Show us your humanity, and, as Sally Field said in her speech for winning Best Actress for Norma Rae-we’ll LIKE you-we’ll REALLY like you!
Top 5 Academy Awards Acceptance Speeches:
5. Hattie McDaniel – Best Supporting Actress – Gone With the Wind-1939
Although Halle Berry would probably consider her own Oscar’s speech to be the first thing that pops to mind when we think of awards that have brought down racial barriers, the real trailblazer was Hattie McDaniel, who won the first Academy Award given to a black actor or actress for her performance as Mammy in “Gone With the Wind.” The film of the acceptance speech is a sweet reminder of a time when the award actually MEANT something. McDaniel delivered a simple, prepared speech about her gratitude to the Academy for the award, but it was the sincerity of her tone that still brings a little lump to my throat when I watch the speech. Unlike many of today’s celebrities that seem to be “always on stage,” McDaniel’s speech gave us a glimpse at a real person. And let’s face it-ANYONE who had to put up with Miss Scarlett for that long definitely deserves an award-even if it was all make believe.
Hattie McDaniel’s Acceptance Speech
4. Marlon Brando – Best Actor – The Godfather – 1973
The Oscars are always more interesting when someone attempts to make a political statement-whether it’s one you agree with or not. Without celebrities using the Oscars as a platform to further their personal political agendas, we’re stuck with a bunch of boring, pretty people with very little to say. When Marlon Brando won the 1973 Oscar for Best Actor in The Godfather, everyone wanted to know what Don Corleone had to say. Brando took the opportunity to make a statement about his dissatisfaction with the portrayal of Native Americans in Hollywood films by sending Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to accept the award. Some might actually consider this to be one of the WORST Oscar acceptance speeches of all times, since Brando cut out on the ceremony. For me, though, any acceptance speech that stands the test of time the way this one has is a powerful one.
Sacheen Littlfeather Accepts Oscar for Brando
3. Jack Palance – Best Supporting Actor – City Slickers – 1992
Nearly forty years after his first Oscar nomination for his performance in Shane, Jack Palance took home the trophy for his performance as the tough-guy rancher who tries to whip Billy Crystal and his fellow bumbling partners find their manhood in City Slickers. When the award was Palance sauntered up on stage, told the audience that he “took craps bigger than Billy Crystal,” and then dropped to the floor to do a series of one-armed push-ups. Even at age 73, Palance wasn’t about to let any young whippersnappers make him feel over the hill.
Jack Palance’s Acceptance Speech
2. Roberto Benigni – Best Foreign Language Film – Life is Beautiful – 1999
“Life is Beautiful” was a film that found something to laugh about in one of the most horrible historical events in history-the Holocaust. Benigni’s film was about keeping hope alive long after it’s realistic, and finding a way to create a happiness that can’t be taken away by external forces. When Sophia Loren announced that “Life is Beautiful” had won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, Benigni leapt up from his seat and then climbed on top of the chairs, balancing between two of them as he waved wildly at the audience. He then hopped up the steps to the stage like a bunny and threw himself into Sophia Loren’s arms. Benigni gave two speeches that night. He also won the Oscar for Best Actor for his part in “Life is Beautiful.” Benigni’s speeches bubbled over with pure, unadulterated joy and gratitude.
Roberto Benigni’s Acceptance Speech
1. Adrien Brody – Best Actor – The Pianist – 2003
The best Oscar speeches usually come when the winner is unexpected. In 2003, Adrien Brody was up for Best Actor for “The Pianist” against four mega-movie stars who had all already won Oscars themselves. Most thought that the award would go to Jack Nicholson for “About Schmidt,” or Daniel Day-Lewis for “Gangs of New York.” When Halle Berry announced Brody as the winner, he seemed genuinely shocked. Brody shook his head in disbelief during most of his walk to the stage, and as Berry reached out to hand him his award, he took a breathtaking dramatic pause and then grabbed Halle Berry, tipped her back, and kissed her. And it wasn’t a “quickie” kiss either. It was one of those moments that everyone BEGS for in the sea of awards show drudgery, pretense, and predictability. Of course, if Brody wasn’t as dashing as he is, maybe we’d all be remembering it as the creepy Oscars where Halle Berry got assaulted on stage live in front of billions of people. But Brody proved he had the chops to pull it off. If only all acceptance speeches were this good.
Adrien Brody’s Acceptance Speech
The Academy Awards Database: