ArCATypes: And Best Speaker goes to …

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We’ve all collectively trudged through another cycle of highfaluting film awards ceremonies. Every year, dozens of these ceremonies pop out metal mini statues like popcorn — which would seem to devalue the act of being honored. But these ceremonies all culminate in the Oscars, which provides the ultimate form of career justification in the most widely consumed storytelling medium today. This prestige causes the award to become synonymous with winners’ names. So, Sexy Former Fictional Doctor George Clooney becomes Sexy Academy Award Winner George Clooney. No matter how big the image transition, Clooney always remains Sexy.

The transition of image is crystallized in the speeches given by winners. The Washington Post claims that these speeches have a huge impact on the way our culture uses rhetoric in common public discourse, such as, “Every weepy retirement speech, every smug valedictorian address, every comic icebreaker.” This influence only seems natural since all of us movie-goers often take our romantic and fashion cues from arbiters of the movie industry.

Kate Winslet even said during her 2009 Best Actress speech that, “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t made a version of this speech before. I was probably 8 years old and saying it into the bathroom mirror. And this (Oscar) would have been a shampoo bottle.” I can relate because sometimes I act out my own acceptance speech as the first columnist honored with a lifetime achievement Oscar — which has led to my totally normal self-image, which includes writing about myself to strangers under the guise of pop culture commentary.

Anyway, Oscar speeches can fall under a wide range of types and quality. From speeches featuring self-aggrandizement to the endless cascade of thanking family members and colleagues to jumping all over the stage as send-off music swells (ahem, Cuba Gooding Jr.), we’ve been left teary-eyed, amused and muttering “WTF?” to ourselves in a drinking-game-induced stupor. But only so many attributes can be fluidly packed into the preferable terseness of a speech.

Meryl Streep, who has won three of the seventeen times she has been nominated, is the standard-bearing speechifier. The New Yorker characterizes her style of acceptance as such: “elegant, loopy, cunningly self-aware, and impeccably delivered — in short, everything you expect from a Meryl Streep performance.”

And at this year’s Oscars, we witnessed a slew of different types of speeches. Best Original Screenplay winner Quentin Tarantino declared this year “the writer’s year, man,” — because he won. Best Supporting Actress Anne Hathaway over-earnestly whispered to her apparently personified Oscar. Everyone buzzed about Best Actress Jennifer Lawrence’s beautiful trip up the stage that attracted the chivalry of hunks Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman and Jean Dujardin. She charmingly joked, “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell,” when she got a standing ovation. And speaking of Streep, she presented the Best Actor Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis, who gave the best speech of the night. His jokes of swapping roles with her in “The Iron Lady” induced crazed laughter. And the three-time winner was the most convincingly humble in his thanks. Whatta guy.

The Oscars ceremony gives us the opportunity to observe the range of reactions that overflows when one gains this ultimate form of success. We then gauge our reactions to the winners’ reactions. Some winners bore, some infuriate; but sometimes they can strike the right balance of sentiment to ensure that the win feels truly deserved. And that makes sitting through yet another ceremony seem worth it.

Contact Caitlin Kelley at [email protected].