Oscars 2014 Review: Now That's How To Give An Acceptance Speech

Nyong'o and McConaughey nail the tricky art of saying thank you

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There are two ways to go with an Oscars speech, and that is to be cool or to be humble.

Actually there is a third way, which is to cry, ramble on for too long and make everyone in the room look away with embarrassment, a style memorably perfected by Gwyneth Paltrow in 1999 whose tearful sentiments went on longer that her Shakespeare In Love co-star Judi Dench's entire screen time (for which she had also won an Oscar).

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Anyway – cool, or humble. Done well, it's probably a bit of both. 

Last night’s Oscars was one of the better years, not just because the quality of films was so high and that no real injustices were hidden in any of the envelopes (aside from, perhaps, Steve McQueen being overlooked for Best Director), but also because the big speeches were unusually fantastic.

The best two? Without question Matthew McConaughey and Lupita Nyong'o.

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Let's take McConaughey, who could not be in a better moment right now, after sealing his metamorphosis from rom-com rent-a-hunk to one of the most respected actors of his generation. 

From the first second to the last, everything about his acceptance speech was pitch perfect: a lingering kiss with the missus, followed by a full hug for your co-star (in this case, the also successful Jared Leto) and even a shorter one for your thwarted co-nominee (Leonardo DiCaprio) on your way to the stage.

"Thank you to the academy - all 6000 members. Thank you to the other nominees. All these performances were impeccable, in my opinion. I didn't see a false note anywhere," was his opening line, which managed to sound sincere, gracious and, crucially, self-congratulatory at the same time ('6000 people and they voted for me!', 'You guys were great but I was too').

After that he was charisma personified, managing to pull off a tribute to his family, his dead father, and even God without once meandering, getting soppy or seeming overawed.

He even managed the extremely difficult trick of philosophising from the most pampered spotlight in the world without coming across like a bit of an idiot.

"There are three things I need each day," he said, channelling his Nietzsche-spouting new character from True Detective, "something to look up to, something to look forward to, and someone to chase.

"I look up to God[…], my family is who and what I look forward to[…] and to my hero - that's who I chase[…] – someone asked me who that was when I was 15, and I said ‘It's me, in ten years from now’. They asked me again at 25 if I was a hero, and I said: 'Not even close. My hero is me at 35'. Every day, every week, every month, my hero is ten years away. I'm never going to be my hero. But that's fine with me, because that gives me someone to chase."

Essentially, the man managed to call himself his own hero while winning an Oscar, and come out of it seeming like a humble and wise advocate for self-improvement. No matter what else he does from now, he's given a performance of a lifetime.

Then, at the other end of the fame spectrum, there was Lupita Nyong'o, who isn't reaching the pinnacle of her powers as an actress but still in the thrilling first throes of it.

After that gut-wrenching performance in 12 Years A Slave – her break out role – the 31-year-old has emerged as not only the most exciting young actress in Hollywood, but also as a darling of the red carpet. There was more suspense in the build up to last night about what dress she would be wearing than I felt in the whole of the final 10 minutes of Gravity.

The opening line of her speech was perfect – a quick, courteous nod to the academy, before cutting straight through the froth to hit a poignant and humble note.

"Thank you to the academy for this incredible recognition," she said. "It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's. So I was to salute the spirit of Patsy."

There was so little ego, so much poise in the rush of thank yous and tributes that flowed out of her next, it blew away much of cynicism that usually accompanies watching millionaires pat themselves on the back.

Perhaps it's because she still feels like a new face that she could pull off a moment of real emotion. Even her wistful parting tribute to the American Dream came off well.

"When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that your dreams are valid,” she said.

Cool, and humble. And both. There was a rare feel good factor to this year's Oscars, and it stemmed from the fact there were so many incredible pieces of art in the running. It made for a genuine and brilliant Oscars, no where more evident, bizarrely, than at the podium.