Monday, February 27, 2012

Reflecting on the Oscars

by Julia Buckley
Ah, the Oscar Ceremony. Some criticize it for its pomp and circumstance, its forced glamour and sometimes stilted or self-serving speeches. I love the Oscars for those reasons, and more. The telecast is a yearly tradition for my family, and we always manage to splurge on junk food by suggesting that our gluttonous snacks are required Oscar fare.

As I watched the event this year, I pondered the notion of the acceptance speech. How well did people really understand what they were supposed to do up there, and how gracious were their speeches?

All the speech books suggest that one should consider SPAM--situation, purpose, audience and method. At the Oscars, this would dictate that one would

A)be aware of their special circumstances and appropriately grateful for them, as well as remaining conscious that all of their fans are watching (situation).

B)understand that it really IS an honor to be nominated, and that their goal is to be THANKFUL. However, it is clear when people approach the mike that they have varying purposes: politics, networking, grudge-holding, Hollywood-bashing (or praising), or, as is the case of one starlet whom I particularly dislike and who tends to win OFTEN, celebrating themselves at long-winded length while ignoring the orchestra.(This particular person wasn't present this year). (purpose)

C)be conscious of both the audience in the auditorium and the audience at home. What would bore them? Is the speaker's job to entertain those people, or to try to please the people involved in his or her own film? (audience)

D)realize that a well-prepared and beautifully rendered speech is far more enjoyable than a list of names. Should they be reading the names of endless producers, directors and camera people off a little piece of paper, saying that they'll make mistakes because they haven't brought their glasses? Or should they try to entertain the audience by showing the very skills that won them the award--that is, skills in public speaking and presentation? Skills in ACTING? So often the award recipients are disappointing when they approach the microphone.

The best speeches by far are those that are truly heartfelt. Who can forget Roberto Benigni, who in his euphoria at winning walked across the seats of the auditorium and moved the audience to tears with his enthusiasm and joy?

For the reasons above, I have chosen my favorites from the 2012 Oscar speeches:

Runners up:

Octavia Spencer, for her sweet and genuine acceptance speech. I think she moved the entire audience to tears.

Asghar Farhadi, the director of the winning Foreign Language film; the paper he read from was forgivable because he had an important message that he wanted to make sure to translate correctly--and everyone was listening.

Michel Hazanavicius, who won a Best Director Oscar for THE ARTIST, for his heartfelt speech, in English, when he forgot the original.

And my winners for the best acceptance speeches: A TIE: the always-elegant Christopher Plummer, who acknowledged his fellow nominees AND his wife and daughter, and brought a gentleman-liness to his presentation that one does not always see in the actors of today.

And the wonderful Jean Dujardin, whose joy and sweet French accent as he accepted his best actor award for THE ARTIST, highlighted a true love of The Oscars and the silent films that inspired him.

All in all a truly fun and joyous Oscar ceremony, with some truly lovely speeches.


Sheila Connolly said...

I'll agree that an acceptance speech should not be a wandering mishmash in which the recipient thanks God, his or her mother, and even the truck that brought coffee to the set. But we need to leave room for honestly spontaneous reactions such as Octavia Spencer's. Some movie professionals are much like writers--they can't believe they actually won, and they think it's presumptuous to write a speech in advance.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

And three cheers for Billy Crystal, who was all an Oscars host should be: funny, smooth, unassuming, and unobtrusive.

Sandra Parshall said...

Dujardin is adorable. No other description fits as well. He could win an award on the strength of his personality.

Billy Crystal has always been a great host, and it's too bad he can't do it forever.

I was terribly disappointed that Viola Davis didn't win. She gave such an amazing performance. Brava to her for not wearing a wig to the Oscars and opting for her natural look instead. She looked 10 years younger!

Susan said...

I love your blog. I too watch the Oscars every year because my family built and owned a drive-in in the 1950s and I grew up there. Acceptance speeches. I love the ones that show class and humor like a Christopher Plummer or a Colin Firth. I love winners who show their gratitude because gratitude is a hard commodity to find these days. And I am appalled by the actors who can not string an intelligent comment together. Thank God for writers.

Julia Buckley said...

Sheila, I agree, which is why Spencer was one of my runner's up. :)

Liz, I totally agree about Billy Crystal. He made me laugh several times, and he seems so comfortable up there.

Sandy, I haven't seen THE ARTIST yet, but after watching that whole cast and the director, I can't wait to see it.

Susan, thank you! And how cool that you had a drive-in. I so fondly remember the one drive-in of my childhood; there's just nothing like it now. And I agree with you that there is a declining focus on well-chosen diction, whether it be spoken or written.