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“I’d like to thank the Academy…” – Tim Grierson on The Art of Oscar Speeches

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It’s easy to be cynical about the Oscars. “Just another awards show.” “They always honor the wrong movies.” “It’s too stuffy and dull.” And while I agree with all those complaints, I’ve never been someone who rolls his eyes at the Academy Awards. OK, fine, I’m not jazzed about Billy Crystal as the host, and I’m not thrilled that “The Artist” is probably going to win Best Picture. But this Sunday, I’ll probably be as excited as I always am about the show. It’s not necessarily who wins that matters — it’s how they win. For me, you see, it’s all about the acceptance speeches. In front of the world, a celebrated actor or director becomes something different — a brand-new Oscar winner — and the unpredictability of that transformation is something I never get tired of watching.

Because the buildup to Oscar night is filled with so many other nights of awards — critics’ prizes, the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards — it can sometimes feel anticlimactic when they finally hand out the Academy Awards. (By this point last year, did anyone think Colin Firth or Christian Bale wasn’t going to win?) And so it’s inevitable that some of the speeches come across as smoothly delivered but a little rote. There’s less surprise in the winner’s voice because, well, he or she sorta knew this moment might be coming.

But nonetheless there are still occasionally those out-of-left-field shockers in which the pomp of Oscar night gives way to something more lively and human. For all the carefully manicured glitz of the program, a great, heartfelt speech can cut through that — and thank goodness.

I’m thinking of a moment like Adrien Brody’s 2003 reaction to his Best Actor win for “The Pianist.” He was up against four previous Oscar-winners, and he was easily the least-known of the contenders. And, yet, there he was, hearing his name called. We tend to remember Brody’s victory mostly for his memorable big smooch with presenter Halle Berry, which gets replayed over and over again. But his acceptance was much more than just that — it was the chance to watch the youngest man ever to win Best Actor wrap his head around what was happening. And so out came this wonderfully touching and ramshackle speech that a more seasoned Hollywood veteran would never give in a million years. And that was the point: Whether wishing a military buddy a safe return or admitting that the experience had been great except for the “insomnia and sudden panic attacks,” there was something terrifically unguarded and honest in Brody’s words that made him seem like the realest person in the room. It wasn’t smooth, but it was beautiful and emotional.

I think that’s what we all want from acceptance speeches — that sense of connection with a winner in which we get a hint of what’s going on in his or her head during a career-defining moment. Even if we’ve never had dreams of winning an Oscar (or a Grammy or a Tony or an Emmy), we’ve all probably imagined what it would be like to be in front of all our peers (and a huge TV audience) and say thanks. And even if you look down your nose at the Oscars, there’s no question it’s the pinnacle of the film business. For the rest of your life, you’ll always be identified as “Oscar-winner” so-and-so. (Although, as George Clooney noted when he won the Best Supporting Actor prize, there is a downside to that.) And we all get to share in that moment of someone’s ascension to Oscar immortality, which only a select group of actors and filmmakers have ever gotten to enjoy. That’s incredibly thrilling — but it also must be a little daunting. The performance took weeks of preparation, a few months of shooting, and then a few months more to be shaped in an editing room. But the speech? That happens live, and there’s no way to know what will come out of your mouth — but audiences will remember it for just as long.

I’m not the only one thinking about Oscar speeches lately. Film critic Glenn Kenny recently put together a list of the best male and female acceptances, and while it’s a great rundown, I think it tends toward the more iconic speeches that we all remember. Personally, it’s the smaller, less infamous moments that have stayed with me. Like when 2008 host Jon Stewart brought back Best Original Song co-winner Markéta Irglová (for “Falling Slowly” from “Once”) to say her thanks after she’d been played off earlier. Or Kate Winslet, receiving her 2009 Best Actress Oscar, asking her dad to “whistle or something ‘cuz then I’ll know where you are” — which her dad did immediately, getting her attention in the packed Kodak Theatre. Or Paul Sorvino sobbing uncontrollably as his daughter Mira won Best Supporting Actress for “Mighty Aphrodite.” Or Tommy Lee Jones, whose head was shaved for his upcoming role in “Cobb,” insisting “I am not bald” while winning Best Supporting Actor in 1994.

But the reason why I love the Oscars specifically is that every once in a while you’ll get a crazy confluence of events that allows the crunk rap group Three 6 Mafia to walk home with an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Hustle & Flow.” Their minds clearly blown, the members rushed the stage and just started shouting out thanks to whomever they could remember, which included group member Paul Beauregard (a.k.a. DJ Paul) thanking, “George Clooney, my favorite man, he showed me love when I first met him.” It was such a terrific, spontaneous moment — almost as terrific as host Jon Stewart’s comment to the staid Kodak audience: “How come they’re the most excited people here tonight? Why is that? … That’s how you accept an Oscar.”

It’s not the only way. But it sure made for great television. I hope we get a speech that heartfelt and natural and joyous Sunday night.

You can follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

Do you have your own favorite Oscar speeches? Let us know in the comments below!

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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