This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
There are two words that trigger me into a puddle of tears the second I hear them: “Helga B.”
OK, the circumstances have to be a bit more curated than that.
It has to be after 1 o’clock in the morning, I have to had at least one bottle of white wine already—that is very important—and I have to be alone in my apartment eating from a box of Wheat Thins when I cue up Sandra Bullock’s 2010 Oscar acceptance speech for her The Blind Side Best Actress win on YouTube. (Typically, I’m an hour or so into an award-speech rabbit hole at this point.)
Mid-way through her endearingly gracious and humorous remarks, she says, “I would like to thank what this film was about for me, which are the moms that take care of the babies and the children no matter where they came from.” Her voice starts to catch as the audience applauds. “Those moms and parents never get thanked. I in particular failed to thank one.” She’s silent for several devastating moments as she summons the name of that one: Her mother, you guessed it, “Helga B.”
I have watched this video maybe 73 times.
I don’t know why it is a thing that gay men love to binge award acceptance speeches over and over again on YouTube, but it is a thing. I don’t make the rules, I just embody them.
It is, however, a curious, drunken, late-night passion that makes them/us/me certain connoisseurs on what are the best and most important elements of award shows: the speeches! You know what sucks? Debating who should have won and who was robbed. You know what’s usually boring? Hosts. And what is almost never good? Musical performances. But the speeches! That’s what we’re tuning in for. And when they’re very good, so usually is the show.
What have I learned in my Riesling-fueled YouTube adventures? Bullock’s, whatever you think of her win for The Blind Side, is an all-time great speech, especially coming after a very emotional tribute to each of the Best Actress nominees that features Oprah Winfrey so lovingly talking about Gabourey Sidibe that the breakout Precious star has to remind herself to breathe through the tears.
I have learned that if you time the ratio of “bleary-eyed late-night hour” to “borderline pathetic amount of wine consumed alone” correctly, you will let out the loud crying sound of a bleating goat at the exact moment Tom Hanks delivers his “the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels” line near the end of his Best Actor speech for Philadelphia, which is the best Oscar speech that has ever been given.
Meryl Streep, unsurprisingly, is great at them. Thanking her husband, Don Gummer, first when she won Best Actress for The Iron Lady, because “when you thank your husband at the end of the speech, they play him out with the music and I want him to know that everything I value most in our lives you’ve given me,” is one of the most casually romantic things any actor has said in one of these.
Those speeches where a quote-unquote “overdue” actor stands up there breathless for a minute are either exhilarating—Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich—or exhausting, like when Kate Winslet won for The Reader.
Marion Cotillard bellowing “thank you life, thank you love, and it is true there is some angels in this city” is gloriously and adorably bizarre. For me, it’s a tie between Julie Andrews’ “I know you Americans are famous for your hospitality but this is really ridiculous” and Shirley MacLaine’s “I deserve this, thank you” for the best lines.
Louise Fletcher delivering part of her One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest speech in sign language for her deaf parents will always get me. Jack Palance doing one-arm push-ups after winning for City Slickers is iconic. Whatever you think about them now, watching Ben Affleck and Matt Damon win for Good WIll Hunting is still electric, every time.
Frances McDormand’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri call to action is never not rousing. (Inclusion! Rider!) The Sally Field stuff is irresistible. Crying along with Gwyneth Paltrow as she, quite overcome, wins for Shakespeare in Love is a great antidote to being annoyed at her for Goop. Whoopi Goldberg! Cher! Christopher Plummer! Colin Firth! All great!
Anyway, revisiting all of this is why I’m excited for Sunday night. It’s a foregone conclusion that Renée Zellweger (Judy), Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Laura Dern (Marriage Story), and Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood) are going to win, and they’ve been great so far on the award circuit.
Zellweger is list-ier in her thank yous than everyone else, but she’s also so visibly grateful to be welcomed back to Hollywood and determined to use her time to say something important about Judy Garland and the people she matters to that it’s been mostly very charming. Phoenix has turned the microphone into a soap box—a necessary one—and I’m curious what he’ll do at the Oscar stage. Dern has mostly been bumbling with gratitude, which is never not appealing, while Pitt seems to have been honing a “tight five” stand-up routine. Strange, but I’m very much here for it.