NEW YORK — The pushy orchestra music that elbows Oscar winners off the stage has long been a trademark of Academy Awards speeches — and no one has ever used it better to his advantage than Al Gore.
Speaking about global warming during Sunday evening’s ceremony, the former vice president responded to Leonardo DiCaprio’s prodding with a fake speech that may have been the night’s best oration.
“Even though I, honestly, had not planned on doing this, I guess with a billion people watching it’s as good a time as any,” said Gore, pulling out a speech. “So, my fellow Americans, I’m going to take this opportunity right here and now to formally announce my intention ...”
And then the music kicked up loudly, cutting off Gore before his pseudo announcement of a presidential candidacy.
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Gore’s fake speech was better than his real one — though he was still solid in his short but forceful insistence that the climate crisis is a “moral issue” after “An Inconvenient Truth” won best documentary.
But on a night where no acceptance speeches seemed destined for Oscar lore, a politician outshone most of the stars.
Jennifer Hudson, whose debut performance in “Dreamgirls” won the award for best supporting actress, was the most teary-eyed winner. Though she was favored, Hudson seemed genuinely surprised: “I didn’t think I was going to win.”
Alan Arkin, the 72-year-old Brooklyn native, choked up a little after winning for his supporting performance in “Little Miss Sunshine,” but since he read his speech, the emotion was slightly obscured.
Arkin wasn’t the only actor who felt he worked best with a script. Forest Whitaker, who won for his lead role as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland,” had previously seemed a little dumbfounded when accepting similar honors at ceremonies like the Screen Actors Guild Awards. On the red carpet before the Oscars, he acknowledged as much: “Sometimes I get overwhelmed.”
‘We can create a new reality’
Whitaker at first seemed to stumble, but once he got cooking he gave the night’s most emotional speech. He was unique, for sure. Whitaker thanked (among others) his ancestors and said he hoped to carry the moment “into the next lifetime.”
But he was passionate and earnest in recalling his childhood embrace of acting and the inspiration behind his work. He grandly silenced any doubters of his eloquence.
Slideshow: Red-carpet glamour “Because when I first started acting, it was because of my desire to connect to everyone,” Whitaker said. “To that thing inside each of us. That light that I believe exists in all of us. Because acting for me is about believing in that connection and it’s a connection so strong, it’s a connection so deep, that we feel it. And through our combined belief, we can create a new reality.”
Helen Mirren, whose win for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II in “The Queen” was a done deal months ago, didn’t try to muster the emotion of Whitaker, but was fittingly British: elegant and dry.
“Now you know for 50 years and more Elizabeth Windsor has maintained her dignity, her sense of duty and her hairstyle,” said Mirren.
Of course, global warming wasn’t Hollywood’s only cause celebre at the Oscars; Martin Scorsese’s long-overdue win for best director finally broke what had been increasingly seen as the Academy’s unjust snubbing of the great filmmaker. Finally awarded the statue, he reacted in disbelief.
“Could you double-check the envelope, please?” Scorsese asked presenter Steven Spielberg.
The famously fast-talking director didn’t unleash any pent-up hatred of the Academy or any poetic musings on his role in American cinema for the past four decades, but he did acknowledge the wave of sentiment that won him the Oscar.
“I just want to say, too, that so many people over the years have been wishing this for me,” Scorsese said. “Strangers. You know, I went walking in the street, people say something to me. I go in a doctor’s office, I go in a whatever. Elevators, people saying, ‘You should win one, you should win one.’ ... I’m saying, ‘Thank you.”’
Thanking Valium and Schwarzenegger
When “The Departed” soon thereafter won for best picture, it seemed a shame that movie icons like Scorsese and Jack Nicholson (who co-starred in “The Departed”) waited in the wings while producer Graham King spoke for the night’s biggest award.
The broadcast, which ran nearly four hours on ABC, had earlier asked winners to spare the audience a laundry list of benefactors. Few took much heed, and it seemed unlikely that producers, agents and family members of winners would be scurrying to the Internet to see if they at least made it onto Oscars.com’s new “Thank You Cam,” where award recipients could expand on their allotted 45-seconds.
Expect a CNN-style crawl at the bottom of the screen next year where winners can be sure to squeeze in thanks to the director (“a genius!”) and God (also smart).
There were many funny and strange little moments Sunday night. “The Departed” screenwriter William Monahan took the stage and said in astonishment, “Valium does work” — while his director, Scorsese, laughed and shook his head in the audience.
The 6-foot, 9-inch German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who won best foreign-language film for “The Lives of Others,” reached the stage in about six long, eager steps. He then curiously thanked Arnold Schwarzenegger for “teaching me that the words ‘I can’t’ should be stricken from my vocabulary.”
You can always count on the Governator to pump you up.
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