Sunday, 22 February 2015

What makes a good Oscar acceptance speech?

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Guest submission by Jamie Hughes • From heartfelt dedications to self-indulgent ramblings, the academy awards has thrown up a plethora of amusing and endearing acceptance speeches over the years. Since the ceremony began in 1929, the Oscar's has moved further and further into the public eye and, whether they're aware of it or not, award winners can now massively enhance their careers with some brief and well refined thank you messages.

As noted by Variety magazine last year, the show's online presence has grown formidably in recent years and acceptance speeches are now publicly scrutinised by journalists and the public on a variety of different social media platforms. So, with the likes of Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong'o earning plaudits for their heartfelt and memorable speeches at last year's awards, who will follow suit this year and make a lasting impression? We take a look at some of the most memorable, amusing and unusual Oscar acceptance speeches from the past in an attempt to identify the most graceful way to receive one of the World's most prestigious awards.

Tom Hanks, 1993

Hank's acceptance speech for his role in Philadelphia appeared perfect in many ways. He sincerely thanked a lot of people, showed his emotions, included a few humorous notes and touched upon a contentious social issue with grace and dignity (writers at The Week have praised the speech for its 'glorious mixture of swoon and sob'). However, it later transpired that Hanks had inadvertently revealed the sexuality of one of his former Drama tutors, who by this point, had never explicitly come out as gay. After being swarmed by reporters in the aftermath of the show, Hank's tutor soon confirmed his homosexuality and ended up joining an organisation for gay teachers who worked with charities to help children diagnosed with HIV. Although Hanks delivered what is considered to be a master-class in public speaking, his accidental bombshell made his speech become even more memorable and, as an unintended consequence, inspired a man to help hundreds of suffering children.

Gwyneth Paltrow, 1999

Paltrow's speech following her award for Best Actress at the 1999 Awards is remembered for a number of reasons. Although the Shakespeare in Love actress managed to get through the first minute of her speech quite gracefully; acknowledging other nominees and delivering some witty remarks about her agent, the latter half appears to spiral out of control slightly. Whilst attempting to thank an incredibly lengthy list of family members, Paltrow struggles to control her emotions and her speech descends into a tedious blend of sobbing and thanking. The acceptance is now remembered by Empire magazine as a terrifically tearful example of what not to do if you win an Oscar.

Meryl Streep, 2012

After winning 3 awards at the ceremony already, Meryl Streep is by far one of the most experienced Oscar acceptance speech givers. In 2012, no one was really surprised when Streep was awarded Best Actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady and her acceptance speech seemed to humorously acknowledge this. After collecting the award Streep began by saying: "I had this feeling I could hear half of America saying, "Oh no. C'mon. Why? Here Again?" which was met by rapturous applause. Self-deprecation appears to be a winning formula for acceptance speeches and Streep uses this to good effect. With a brief anecdote about her make-up artist and a few thank-yous, the speech appeared heartfelt, sincere and, most important of all, not too long.

Marlon Brando, 1973

Brando etched his place in Oscar history in 1973 when he selected Sacheen Littlefeather, a little-known Native American actress, to accept his award in his absence. Despite receiving the award for one of his greatest ever roles in The Godfather, Brando rejected the prized Best Supporting Actor accolade and instead decided to use the Academy Award platform to raise awareness for American Indians in the film industry. Although he received a lot of criticism for his decision, the speech remains one of the most powerful moments in Oscar history and is an act which no one has had the courage to repeat since.

Joe Pesci, 1991

One of the dilemmas facing those giving acceptance speeches, is how long to speak. When Joe Pesci received the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Goodfellas, he decided to adopt quite a blunt and concise approach. His speech was five words, "It's my privilege, thank you.", and remains one of the shortest in history.

The Oscar acceptance speech therefore exists in many forms and, over the years, award winners have succeeded and failed with their graceful and not so graceful attempts. The above speeches appear to show that by combining a suitable mix of humour, emotion and modesty, you can leave a positive lasting impression on the audience. As noted in a recent article by Speakers Corner on the art of speech giving, the length of a speech is always key, and in this instance, the ability to maintain a balance between personal anecdotes, thank-yous and political messages appears vital. So if you can control your emotions, appear humble, bring to light a relevant and important political issue and express sincere gratitude in the process.