SALT LAKE CITY — I’ll let you in on a little secret. Here, come closer.
Most Oscar acceptance speeches aren’t very good.
It’s sad, but true. With the exception of a few legendary speeches, most of them don’t have enough interesting material to be evergreen. This Sunday’s Academy Awards — minus a host and a few live-televised awards (including best cinematography and editing) — will mostly be filler, but hey, maybe one or two winners will give us the entertainment we crave.
If you end up winning an Academy Award, follow these handy steps to ensure your place in Oscar telecast history.
Step 1: Be happy
This may seem like a no-brainer. A lot of winners have acted very serious up there on stage, though. Listen, we get it: Unless you’re Meryl Streep, it’s probably the biggest moment of your career. Tears are OK, but jeez, at least enjoy the moment
Example: Roberto Benigni: No one’s ever enjoyed their win as much as this guy (except for maybe Adrien Brody?). When “Life Is Beautiful” won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1999, Benigni stood up on the seat in front of him — no matter that some guy was already sitting there — and once he got onstage, told Sophia Loren, the presenter, “I want to be rocked by the waves of your beauty.” A strong start. He got back onstage later that night when he won best actor, and said, “This is a terrible mistake, because I used up all my English.” Just look at that smile.
Step 2: Acknowledge the time limit
Almost no Oscar winner ever gets as much time up there as they want. The best thing you can do is acknowledge that fact immediately.
Example: Julia Roberts: The “Erin Brockovich” winner started her 2001 speech by saying, “I have a television, so I’m going to spend some time here to tell you some things.” Then she pointed to the symphony conductor and said, “Sir, you’re doing a great job, but you’re so quick with that stick, so why don’t you sit, because I may never be here again.” (This might be the best acceptance speech of all time.)
Step 3: If you don’t go long, go REALLY short
Example: Joe Pesci uttered only five words in his 1991 acceptance speech for “Goodfellas”: “It’s my privilege. Thank you.” Respect.
Step 4: If you humble-brag, recover with something iconic
No one gets an Oscar without having worked really hard; that feeling of accomplishment must be validating. Chances are you’ll want to boast. You can get away with it — as long as you follow it up with some iconic phrase that people will remember. It buries the humble-brag.
Examples: Matthew McConaughey, Sally Field: In McConaughey’s best actor acceptance speech in 2014 for "Dallas Buyers Club," he said his hero has always been himself 10 years in the future. Weird, but OK. He finished off the speech with his iconic, “Alright alright alright!”
Sally Field has won multiple Oscars, and she reminded us of that fact when she won for “Places in the Heart” in 1985. “I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it. But this time I feel it — and I can’t deny the fact that you like me! Right now, you like me!” Wow, what a save.
Step 5: Acknowledge the unsung mentor
Everyone expects you to thank your husband or wife or kids. But what about the mentors who came before that? Class it up a bit by giving them a shoutout they never expected but undoubtedly deserved.
Example: Tom Hanks: “Philadelphia” brought Hanks his first Oscar in 1994. The film has Hanks playing a gay lawyer dying of AIDS, and in his acceptance speech he thanked his high school drama teacher and one of his high school classmates in that drama class. “I would not be standing here if it were not for (them),” he said.
Step 6: If you break the time limit, do it with gusto
That same old sendoff music is coming. It always does. If it starts playing, but you’ve still got some things to say, then own the moment.6 comments on this story
Example: Cuba Gooding Jr.: When Gooding Jr. started getting played off at the 1997 Oscars, he started to thank folks louder and louder, and more and more enthusiastically. As the music swelled and Gooding Jr. shouted his proclamations of love, it felt like the climax of some inspiring movie. He got a standing ovation. If there was an Oscar for getting an Oscar, Gooding Jr. would have earned it.
Step 7: But seriously, get off the stage
It’s a fine line here. Eventually, you’ve got to wrap things up. Exit with grace if you can.