The 87th Academy Awards will be taking place in Los Angeles tomorrow. The star of Crocodile Dundee, Paul Hogan, summed up the purpose of an Oscar speech in a succinct three part list: ‘Be gracious, be grateful, get off.’
The ceremony offers examples of grotesque over-acting, but also some classy insights into what makes a great speech.
The most reliable source of inspiration for a speech is the impulse to express gratitude. If a best man realises it’s his duty to appreciate, rather than scorn the groom in his speech, he’ll be fine. The challenge of the Oscars is: how do I express thanks for this award and to the people who’ve helped me win in under 45 seconds?
The quivering voice, the sighs and the tears may be contrived, but if you want to be memorable (the Oscars is about business, let’s not forget) a convincing wobble can be a great way to communicate with one billion people of different ages and different cultural backgrounds across the world.
If you have the courage to be short, it cam be a great way to get attention. Joe Pesci used five words ‘It’s my privilege. Thank you.’
4) Opening Lines
A good first line is crucial even in this kind of speech. In 2012 Meryl Streep charmed the audience with a few words: ‘Oh. C’mon. Alright. Thank you so much… Whey they called my name I had this feeling I could hear half of America going: Oh no. Why? Her. Again?’ You know. But whatever.’ She milked every word for emphasis and texture.
In 1987 Billy Wilder told a wonderful story which falls into the ‘This nearly didn’t happen category’ (see below).
Roberto Benigni managed to express joie de vivre in his acceptance of best Foreign Language Film in 1998. He fulfilled every over-the-top Italian stereotype by flailing his arms about. He also had a good gag: I would like to thank my parents. They gave me the biggest gift: poverty.
He also used a very elegant quotation from Dante: L’amore che muove il sole e le altre stelle – Love will move the sun and the other stars. Love is a divinity, and sometimes if you have faith, like all the divinities, it can appear.
The Italians call it sprezzatura: the art of making difficult things look simple, by concealing the effort that went into them. The hosts of the Academy Awards are expected to be witty. Their gag writers spend months before the event crafting hundreds of jokes which can be used on the night.