The glam and glitz notwithstanding, what viewers of Sunday’s Oscars Awards ceremony will be watching won’t only be who gets anointed with Academy Awards, but how they express their gratitude upon receiving them. This is when the real drama begins for viewers of the annual industry love-fest. In my opinion, this should rank its own award. After all, this is where stars either shine brighter or start their inevitable fade.
Having to say Thank You for an eight and a half pound statuette while more than 30 million people are watching worldwide is not the most natural situation in which to find oneself. Put this way, winning an Oscar is like receiving an embarrassing white elephant gift at the world’s largest holiday party. To continue the line of thinking, the only reason Oscars aren’t re-gifted is because the winner’s name is engraved on them.
In reality, of course, Oscars are as coveted by a certain class of people as the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant or, really, any other prop from an Indiana Jones flick (except that frickin’ crystal skull). To wit, here are some tips to make your Oscar acceptance speech worthy of the win rather than grist for an inevitable YouTube parody.
1. Thank Everything with a Pulse
“Perceived ingratitude by omission” is the technical term I’ve coined to describe what happens when someone who should be thanked during an acceptance speech isn’t. The checklist of prerequisites includes, in this order: the members of the Academy, the other nominees, one’s representatives (agent, manager, lawyer, yogi, etc.), one's collaborators and one’s life partner. It’s incredible how many times this last person on the list is forgotten as winners are scrolling through everyone in their phone’s contact folder. Deceased pets, baristas and the cleaning service of interstate motels are often thanked before, or in lieu, of a significant other. Why? Because emotional proximity puts these people in a blindspot when one’s vision is tunneled by teleprompters, TV cameras and an orchestra threatening to blast you offstage.
Notable omissions include Hilary Swank’s failure to thank then-husband Chad Lowe when accepting the Best Actress Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry back in 2000. As the cameras cut between shots of the couple, Swank onstage and Lowe in the audience, it became increasingly clear to everyone but Swank that Lowe would not be acknowledged before the music played.
Over a decade later, when accepting a Golden Globe this January, Lena Dunham (of HBO’s Girls fame) thanked Lowe. As she later explained, she did it “Because Hillary Swank forgot.” Ouch.
2. Say It, Don’t Pray It
Among those one should reconsider thanking are deities. Gods and goddesses, Eastern or Western, ancient or recently hatched from science fiction, should be struck from your notes. Thanking one’s deity upon receiving an award from your entertainment industry peers is like phoning a parent on their deathbed when a bartender puts an extra olive in your martini. It’s an honor dubious in the face of the greater and grave. I mean, does God give a crap about the Oscars? No. Why? Because he was snubbed in 1941 when Orson Welles took the award for Best Screenplay and he didn’t. Since then, anyone thanking God in their acceptance speech is effectively saying, “Neener, neener.”
3. Brevity is the soul of wit ...
“… and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,” goes the rest of Polonius’ line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Heed these words lest your speech become a bathroom break. Albeit a quick one, since you’ve only got 45 seconds to sign, seal and deliver your verbal thank you cards before the music plays, your mic is cut and suddenly you’re lipsynching a string section. But don’t be so brief as to seem ungrateful, like Joe Pesci when he picked up an award for Best Supporting Actor for “Goodfellas.” All he said was “It’s my privilege. Thank you.” Then he presumably went backstage and stabbed somebody with a pen. Don’t do that.
• • •
Note: This year, I will be rooting for my former roommate Crispin Struthers, nominated for a Best Film Editing Oscar for his work on Silver Linings Playbook. Go Struthers! Excelsior!