This year’s Oscars was not among the most attention-grabbing of recent years, and in fact, it was the first ceremonies in years that completely snuck up on me–up until about a week before, I didn’t know who some of the favorites, or even some of the nominees were. The reasons for lack of excitement here are several–a host I couldn’t have weaker feelings about one way or the other, a group of nominated films in which I had little vested interest (with a couple exceptions), and odds-on winners that seemed unupsettable among the bigger ones. Hence, I began to key in on the acceptance speeches, which I began to find far more interesting than the winners who actually delivered them. So from worst to best, most embarrassing to most inspiring, the 24 speeches of the 81st Academy Awards.
24. Kate Winslet (Best Actress, The Reader). Oh boy, what a mess. I’d read in New York magazine that Winslet had given a shameful speech or two in the pre-Oscar award circuit, but that she had been using the opportunities to get her reps in time for the big show. Well, if this is the fruition of that gained experience, then holy shit, because she belly-flopped up there tonight worse than The Life of David Gale. Heavy breathing, long pauses, intermittent sobbing, rambling phrasing…just a wreck. Her dad almost saves the day with his whistle from the back, but then she just keeps going. I mean, I guess going 0 for 5 over the course of 13 years will make anyone a little antsy, but…c’mon, Kate. You’re supposed to be one of the premiere leading ladies in the world now. Pull it together just a little.
23. A.R. Rahman (Best Score, Slumdog Millionaire). “Before coming, I was excited and terrified. Last time I felt like that…was during my marriage!” OUCH! PLEASE A.R. RAHMAN, DON’T HURT ‘EM! I guess American standup comedy after the 60s hasn’t reached India quite yet.
22. Andrew Stanton (Best Animated Feature Film, Wall-E). My problem with this speech is fairly similar to the one I had with Wall-E in general. “It’s been such an inspiration to spend time with a character who so tenaciously struggles to find the beauty in everything that he sees. It’s a noble aspiration to have in times like these.” IT’S A MOVIE ABOUT A ROBOT AND A FUCKING TRASH RECEPTACLE. Get over yourselves, kindly.
21. Chris Dickens (Best Editing, Slumdog Millionaire). Nothing of note here except that dude stutters a lot at the end and kind of looks like a British Moby.
20. Jochen Alexander Freydank (Best Live Action Short Film, Speilzeugland). Pretty much your basic “Wow, look how far I’ve come!” speech that Best Live Action Short Film winners always seem to resort to. Mostly noteworthy for Seth Rogen cracking up when James Franco read his name.
19. Richard King (Best Sound Editing, The Dark Knight). Ugh, another “As a kid growing up in Suburban Florida…” speech. How hard would it have been to call out Danny Boyle and his crew and yell out “THERE GOES YOUR CLEAN SWEEP, MOTHERFUCKAZZZZZ!!!!!” Luckily, Will Smith peppers up the interims with “Boom Goes the Dynamite” referencess–let it never be said that you weren’t up on your YouTubes, Mr. Prince.
18. Eric Barba and Company (Best Visual Effects, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Thanking “Brad Pitt for an amazing performance”? Come now, your special effects weren’t that good.
17. Megan Mylan (Best Documentary Short Subject, Smile Pinki) My theater tech roommate took umbrage with Mylan referring to filmmaking as a “Team Sport,” not appreciating the association with professional athletics. Gotta concur, it’s a pretty lousy statement. Nice red dress though.
16. Michael O’Connor (Best Costume Design, The Duchess) Yawn, yawn, yawn. Might be the only Oscar acceptance speech ever to thank the musical director, though. I’m sure the guild/union/brotherhood appreciated that.
15. Anthony Dod Mantle (Best Cinematography, Slumdog Millionaire). Why do people take the time to thank the Academy, exactly? Are there really voters or other constituents out there that go “uh oh oh, he did not thank the Academy! BANNED FOR LIFE, ASSHOLE!” Considering how these dudes are always bitching about not having the time to thank everyone they want to thank, you’d think they’d consider freeing up about five – eight seconds by forgoing the requisite Academy nod. Or is it just one of those unspoken rule things?
14. Donald Graham Burt and Victor J. Zolfo (Best Art Direction, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Pretty meh stuff, though it’s nice to see the props for Fincher, who made arguably the worst movie of his career here, but is still one of the best directors of the last 20 years. Better to see him getting his respects from others tonight, though, rather than by being behind the mic himself.
13. Resul Pookuty and Company (Best Sound, Slumdog Millionaire). It’s possible Pookuty is just really emotionally moved by the situation, but really, he sounds like he’s totally winded from the trek up the steps to the microphone. Speech is unremarkable, but he gets some points form me because his name sounds funny. Seriously, say it out loud. Pookuty. Tee-hee.
12. Kim Bell, Sally Ledger and Kate Ledger (Heath Ledger as Best Supporting Actor, The Dark Knight). I really don’t know what to think here. For a moment I imagine many anticipated to be the most emotional moment of the night, this was an oddly muted speech. I was sure at least one of them would break into tears, and maybe that someone would levy accusations against friends or co-workers for not helping to save him from a role that pretty much destroyed him. But no–nothing but smiles and quiet dignity. It’s a classy move, I guess, but it feels a little hollow, and very underwhelming. Maybe that’s the point.
11. A.R. Rahman (Best Song, Slumdog Millionaire). Yes, that’s right–America simply couldn’t get enough A.R. Rahman tonight, so after winning for Best Score, and performing a Best Song nominee, Rahman took the stage once more to accept Best Song for “Jai Ho.” This time he seemed to sense that people were getting a little worn on his charms, though, and kept the zingers to a minimum. “All my life, I’ve had a choice of hate and love. I chose love, and I’m here.” Fair enough, I suppose.
10. Christian Colson (Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire). Not quite bringing the fraction of India on stage that the Return of the King crew brought from New Zealand, but pretty great to see the dudes who played Salim and the Millionaire host chilling in the background–wish they could’ve said a few words. I only just learned about all the controversy surrounding the movie, especially all the bits about the kids, though. Yikes.
9. Simon Beaufoy (Best Adapted Screenplay, Slumdog Millionaire). Minus for the flat “Miss World” joke, but definite props for thanking his wife, “for whom repressed English writers have to write love stories because they can’t really say what they mean.” Touche, Beaufoy.
8. Yojiro Takita (Best Foreign Language Film, Departures). A nice broken English acceptance speech, with every word a punctuation mark–“I…AM…HERE!! BECAUSE…OF….FILMS!! THIS…IS…A NEW…DEPARTURE…FOR ME!!” I like the rhtyhm of it, actually. Much punchier and much less draggy than the whole Slumdog lot, at the very least.
7. Greg Cannom (Best Makeup, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Gets some credit from me for being the ultimate Not Giving a Fuck speech of the evening. From the moment Cannom gets up there and snipes at the Academy for not co-nominating one of his creative partners, he seems completely unimpressed with what he has just accomplished, speeding through his thanks, and leaving ’em while he’s looking good. He was obviously going to win–which, by the by, he’d already done in previous years for Dracula and Mrs. Doubtfire–and he acted like it. Well played, Mr. Cannom.
6. Danny Boyle (Best Director, Slumdog Millionaire). For being one of my all-time favorite directors, I really knew nothing about Danny Boyle as a person before tonight, and judging by his speech, at least, he seems like a pretty cool guy. Enthusiastic, energetic, quick on his feet and entirely charming. He takes the time to remark on how great the cermonies have been–“I don’t know what it looks like on television, but in the room, it’s bloody wonderful”–as if he really had been waiting for this moment for some time. He even thinks to shoutout a guy he’d accidentally snubbed in the film’s closing credits. The only thing that would’ve improved the speech? If it had been given while receiving the award for Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary or 28 Days Later instead. Minor quibble, though–brava, Danny.
5. Penelope Cruz (Best Supporting Actress, Vicky Cristina Barcelona). Heartfelt and emotional, but classy and composed. Nice props given to Woody Allen and Pedro Almodovar, though Christina Ricci’s role in Anything Else still burns a little too bright in my mind for me not to cackle at the suggestion that Allen has written “some of the greatest characters for women.” Loses points for going well over time, but gains most of them back for forewarning of this inevitability at the beginning.
4. Dustin Lance Black (Best Original Screenplay, Milk). Black relates what an inspirational figure Milk was to him, and how much he meant to him as a closeted thirteen-year-old, and encourages all the LBGT kids out there that they are, in fact, beautiful, despite what their churches may say. Probably the most urgent and directly moving of the acceptance speeches, and certainly one of the bolder ones in recent years. Most interesting to me, though, is what Dustin leaves out, giving his father the snub on multiple occasions–he talks about his “beautiful mother and…father…,” and then thanks “my mom, who has always loved me,” saying nothing about dear ol’ dad. Sorry pops, but I guess lying to your business partners about your son’s “roommate” gets you a raw deal come Oscar time.
3. Kunio Kato (Best Animated Short Film, La Maison en Petits Cubes). A few stiff sounding thank-yous, climaxing in “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto.” Hilarious, setting back racial stereotypes 25 years, or both? Any way, you can’t deny that he went there.
2. Sean Penn (Best Actor, Milk). Funny, personable, impassioned and righteous. An undoubtedly great speech for an undoubtedly great performance. But Penn’s speech will nonetheless forever go down for what it pre-empted–the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness Mickey Rourke accepting an Academy Award. It was obvious that was going to be the high point of the ceremony–if not all of Oscar history–even before Rourke gave his speech at the Independent Spirit Awards. Any other year, Sean. Any other year.
1. James Marsh, Simon Chinn and Philippe Petit (Best Documentary, Man on Wire). Appropriate that my favorite Oscar winner of 2008 should make my favorite acceptance speech–Marsh and Chinn were whatever, but doc subject Petit was every bit as winning and irresistible as the flick itself. “The shortest speech in Oscar history–Yessss!!!” he says, before continuing on, because he “always [breaks his] own rules,” finishing out by making a coin that fellow nominee Werner Herzog gave him disappear, demonstrating that he wanted to “thank the academy for believing in magic.” Then, just for good measure, Petit balances the statue on his chin for about three seconds. The best part? Petit shouldn’t even have been up there, not actually being one of the award’s recepients or anything.