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<b>The Back Lot</b>: Academy acceptance

Actors prep for film's big night

The end of the Oscar season brings a sigh of relief to Hollywood. No more red carpets or packed parties or frenzied media encounters. Also, no more acceptance speeches.

Pained acceptance speeches always remind us that, while actors diligently learn to cope with rejection, they remain inept at handling adulation. Once in the kudo spotlight, they seem numbed by the realization that they’re not being damned with faint praise, but rather dunned with servile flattery.

Perhaps that’s why, at awards ceremonies, they immediately plunge into the pluperfect subjective, never thanking anyone directly but saying instead, “I would like to thank….” There’s really no need for “woulds” or “coulds.” They’re stars; they can thank anyone they want.

And perhaps that’s also why they summon up their lengthy lists of agents, managers and proctologists. All of us know that stars firmly believe that they alone are responsible for their success. The glow of genius resides within, and is only marginally embellished by those who lurk in the entourage. Hence, the subjunctive applies suitably for those on the periphery.

In the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards, I asked several of the nominees whether they would prepare their own speeches or ask for help from friendly writers. One replied candidly that he was too spooked to prepare anything. Another said, “I want it to come from the heart,” and hence he would never ask for help from a writer. He quickly thought better of it. “Maybe it would come out better from the writer’s heart,” he added.

In his acceptance speeches throughout the kudo season, Forest Whitaker kept trying to tap into an appropriate epiphany, but somehow it never arrived. There were poignant pauses, but no flights of eloquence. Sacha Baron Cohen, on the other hand, decided to go to a safer place at the Golden Globes — his testicular references seemed appropriately Boratian. Surely the standards and practices arbiters at ABC already are mobilizing their “bleeps,” lest Cohen win again.

Gil Cates, whose good nature has survived some 13 Oscar producing gigs, says his favorite acceptance speech was that of Alfred Hitchcock. Upon winning the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1967, the portly filmmaker slowly shambled toward the stage to the accompaniment of the famous Hitchcockian theme. He gathered himself at the mic as if to deliver a major oration, then simply said, “Thank you,” and walked off.

No subjunctives for old Hitch.

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