As the 2018 Oscars approaches, I wanted to make a nomination of my own: best Oscar’s acceptance speech. Step forward Mr Tom Hanks.
In 1994, the big film of the year was Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (a rare Spielberg film in which Hanks was not involved!). It won 7 Oscars that year including best director and picture, from a total of 12 nominations. But the film’s leading man, Liam Neeson, missed out on the award for best actor to Tom Hanks. The performance that won Hanks the Oscar was his portrayal of Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia, a story about a lawyer with HIV who sues his former firm after it fires him because of his illness.
In accepting the Oscar, Hanks delivers what is in my mind the best acceptance speech ever. I won’t dissect it here but I will make two brief observations:
Firstly, Hanks starts his speech with the phrase “Here’s what I know”, which is an absolutely brilliant opening to any speech! It leaves no room for ambiguity. It is a clear, punchy, declarative statement which says: Listen, I’m going to tell you how it is. I’m about to speak the truth from the heart, my heart. And he does.
Secondly, This is the earliest use of the phrase “the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels” that I can find. Most people familiar with this phrase will know it from the TV series The West Wing where it was made famous by President Josiah Bartlet as he pays tribute to the victims of a terrorist attack (that episode first aired in 2002, a full eight years after Hanks made this speech). Hanks uses the phrase to devastating effect here to memorialise the victims of HIV AIDS who “number a thousand for each one of the red ribbons that we wear here tonight”.
Do watch Hanks’ speech. It’s beautiful, mesmerising, and very powerful.
Here’s what I know. I could not be standing here without that undying love that was just sung about by, not Bruce [Springsteen], but Neil Young. And I have that in a lover that is so close to fine, we should all be able to experience such heaven right here on earth. I know also that, I should not be doing this, I should not be here, but I am because of the union of such filmmakers as Ed Saxon, Ron Nyswaner, Kristi Zea, Tak Fujimoto, Jonathan Demme — who seems to have these [Oscars] attached to his limbs for every actor that works with him of late. And a cast that includes Antonio Banderas, who, second to my lover, is the only person I would trade for. And a cast that includes many other people, but the actor who really put his film image at risk, and shone because of his integrity, Mr. Denzel Washington, who I really must share this with.
I would not be standing here if it weren’t for two very important men in my life, so… two that I haven’t spoken with in a while, but I had the pleasure of just the other evening. Mr. Rawley Farnsworth, who was my high school drama teacher, who taught me to act well the part, there all the glory lies. And one of my classmates under Mr. Farnsworth, Mr. John Gilkerson. I mention their names because they are two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with, to fall under their inspiration at such a young age. I wish my babies could have the same sort of teacher, the same sort of friends.
And there lies my dilemma here tonight. I know that my work in this case is magnified by the fact that the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. We know their names. They number a thousand for each one of the red ribbons that we wear here tonight. They finally rest in the warm embrace of the gracious creator of us all. A healing embrace that cools their fevers, that clears their skin, and allows their eyes to see the simple, self-evident, common sense truth that is made manifest by the benevolent creator of us all and was written down on paper by wise men, tolerant men, in the city of Philadelphia two hundred years ago. God bless you all. God have mercy on us all. And God bless America.
Source: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences