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Oscar Update: The Winner's Speech

Academy screenings: several million dollars. Media tours: another several million. Deluxe DVD release: see above. Accepting your Oscar with grace and eloquence: priceless.

 

Oscar Statuettes

 

Can you put a price tag on an Oscar? Polarizing nominations or wins can result in a conspiracy-minded "It’s all fixed!" complaint. That’s just part of the heated sideshow that comes with each awards circus. The truth is that though you can’t really buy an Oscar, you also can’t win one without spending money. Academy screenings, media tours, glossy pictorials in magazines, deluxe DVD releases strategically timed during voting can all ring up quite a bill. Statistics are hard to come by, but it’s common belief that the typical campaign can run in the low seven figures. Supposedly, The Social Network is spending $5 million this year, and Toy Story 3, from the scope of its clever “Not Since…” ad campaign (in which the Toys’ poses recall past Best Picture winners), might also be spending heavily.

 

But here’s something you can’t purchase that’s priceless on the campaign track: the acceptance speech.

Free Speech

 

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Once an actor is nominated, they’re depending on the kindness of strangers or peers to make them winners: The Hollywood Foreign Press Association votes on the Golden Globes; The Broadcast Film Critics Association votes on the Critics Choice Awards; card-carrying Screen Actors Guild members vote on the SAGs (January 30); British actors and filmmakers vote on the BAFTAs (February 13). Those are the four major televised opportunities to win the hearts of Oscar voters.

 

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Not everyone gets all four spotlights. Melissa Leo plays the bossy mother of the boxers in The Fighter and is widely considered the frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actress statue, but she was not nominated at the BAFTAs. This will allow someone else a spotlight on February 13.

 

Sometimes actors have to share the podium; The Globes famously split the lead acting categories. This past weekend, Oscar voters could easily contrast Natalie Portman and Annette Bening’s Best Actress speeches if they were still undecided. Portman’s speech leaned on her tough physical training for the role (a smart move, since Oscar loves seeing actors sweat it out), but she’s also been playing up the personal life angle, bubbling over about her pregnancy and her new fiancée (Benjamin Millepied, who choreographed Black Swan). The latter isn’t about the work, but Oscar history indicates a deep love of the misty-eyed princesses, so why shouldn’t Portman share the fairytale of her Prince and her happily ever after?

 

Meanwhile, Annette Bening kept it all about the movie and only invoked her personal life once by teasing her husband Warren Beatty ("Golden Globe Winner for Most Promising Newcomer of 1962”). Nevertheless, her speech served up a subtle reminder that she’s Hollywood Royalty. The Academy likes to see their royalty crowned… eventually.

 

Christian Bale, Best Supporting Actor

 

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What is Christian Bale buying with his (free) acceptance speeches? He’s notoriously prickly off-screen and famously likes to be quoted with no journalistic embellishments or edits (as recently detailed in Esquire), so he seemed the obvious choice when taking “thank you” dictation.

 

Upon receiving the Critics Choice award:
“Thank you so much. This feels great, because I feel like Dicky is winning this as well. I love him so much. We became such great friends during this. I was speaking to him just yesterday. I just want to say, first of all, thanks so much to the family. Thanks for living that life, those two brothers and what they went through. And thanks to them for letting us film in Lowell. They could have shut us down at any moment [with] the power that family has. For Dicky’s buoyancy and passion throughout this. I just want to say hi to Alice, Melissa Leo’s character, Alice, who is in the hospital right now, who was declared dead earlier this week and then after 30 minutes came back around. That is one tough cookie, you know? You can see where Dicky gets his fortitude from. As Dicky tells it she was dead and he went down to the hospital and said  [switching to his character’s voice] “Ma, Wake up! Get your fingers out of your mouth!” The doctor said it was like Lazarus, he’d never seen it before. So, here’s to Alice. You know. Good job for still being here.”

christian+bale+at+critics+choice+awards

 

In the opening punch of this acceptance speech, he plays up the real life character angle. He also switches from his own accent to Dicky’s. It’s a clever move, whether or not it’s a conscious one, since voters love nothing more than biographical mimicry. The “Lazarus” anecdote about Alice’s illness won Melissa Leo plenty of air time by way of reaction shots, undoubtedly bolstering good will for her performance, and it served up a neat reminder of how surprisingly funny the movie is.

 

melissa+leo+

 

He concluded his speech like so:
David O. Russell. Man, give it up for him. The guy is just fantastic. He created such a wonderful atmosphere just to let us go loose and ‘let the pig loose’ like my friend Werner calls it. To all my fellow actors: to Mark for just plowing on and doing this; for Melissa, Amy, Jack and everybody else that was involved in it; Paramount, Relativity; to our producers Mark and David and Todd; everyone was fantastic. Every single crewmember was fantastic. Everyone was like a filmmaker on this. There was such a good spirit to it, you know? Most of all, I couldn’t do any of this without my wife. And my beautiful daughter. Thanks so much.”

 

After acknowledging friendly working relations with two great directors who are sometimes deemed crazy or difficult (The Fighter’s Oscar hopeful David O. Russell and auteur legend Werner Herzog), he savvily acknowledges the crew as well. Before anyone had seen the movie, some pundits—myself included, I reluctantly admit—assumed that he might have some campaign trouble, given his volatile rep and that shouting fit heard and remixed round the ‘net on the set of Terminator Salvation (in which he excoriated a cinematographer for breaking his focus). But that was before anyone saw this great performance, which is very difficult to deny. Bale presents himself here as someone who works comfortably with demanding filmmakers and has generous feelings towards the below the line personnel.

 

christian+bale+at+golden+globes%2C

 

Bale’s second big televised win was at the Golden Globes, where his speech was a little more unruly, as he bit—no nibbled—the hand that fed him by making slight fun of the HFPA and their shameless celebrity-courting rep. He showed generosity yet again, giving much of his credit to Mark Wahlberg.

 

“You can only give a loud performance like the one I gave when you have a quiet anchor, a stoic character. I've played that one many times, and it never gets any notice. Thank you, buddy. Kudos to you for that. Otherwise we wouldn't have gotten away with it.”

 

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Whenever The Fighter wins at awards shows, they play that rowdy opening song by The Heavy ("♪ ♫ How You Like Me Now?") as accompaniment. The answer whilst voting was obviously, "Quite a lot, thanks. Here’s your prize!" When actors or filmmakers take that stage, isn’t the question asked all over again?

 

Oh sure, some voters pick their favorites early on, and there’s no budging their choices. But the court of public opinion or their own personal feelings about the celebrity—however tangential—comes into play, too. Like politicians on the campaign trail, Oscar hopefuls also have to court the undecided voter.

 

“How you like me now?” To keep winning the next award, the answer must remain the same.

 

 



Nathaniel Rogers
blogs on The Film Experience. He is also a bit of an Oscar savant.

 

More in our 2010 Oscars series:
The Wizards of Oscars
Ballots Are Out and the Heat Is On
Is Oscar Age-ist Re: Best Actress
12 Hungry Films; Only Room for 10
The Spirits vs. The Oscars
Too Many Screeners, Not Enough Turkey
Awards Season Begins

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