Olivia Colman’s Best Actress Speech is the Realest Oscars Moment in Years

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Olivia Colman’s Best Actress Speech is the Realest Oscars Moment in Years

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

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oward the end of this year’s Oscars ceremony when the Best Actress winner was about to be announced, no one was counting on a surprise. Only two awards – Best Director and Best Film – were left to cap off the weirdly experimental ceremony that glided along with no hosts, insolent snubs, and its incurable thirst for Bohemian Rhapsody. And at the time, Spike Lee’s long overdue Oscar win for BlackKklansman that was followed by an exhilarating and politically conscious acceptance speech seemed to be the only plucky choice that the erratic Academy could afford to hand out. Lee’s win was instantly – and unanimously – lauded as the one indelible silver lining to the insipid ceremony.

So when Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell took the stage to announce the award for Best Actress, it was implied that the honour would be Glenn Close’s for the taking. Beyond her stupendous turn in The Wife, the expectation was further bolstered by the actress’ win at the Golden Globes, a glittering body of work that fetched her seven Oscar nominations through the years, and the anticipation of witnessing Close snag her debut Oscar accompanied onstage with her dog. The actress herself was dressed in a golden, glittery gown that resembled the Oscar statue itself, almost like a little hint. Except, the winner – as McDormand announced a few seconds later – turned out to be Olivia Colman. If Lee’s win was the silver lining, then Colman’s felt like reaching the stars itself.

Olivia Colman

The Oscars still continue to appeal because they promise us surprising moments like Olivia Colman’s winning moment

Image credit: The Academy

The 44-year-old actress’s award felt surreal precisely because it didn’t quite fit the neatly checked labels of either a “surprise” or an “upset”: Not only did her turn as the bonkers Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’ absurdist The Favourite garner widespread acclaim, but it was also a role and a performance deserving of the golden statue. In fact, hers was a win – like Richard E Grant’s chance at winning Best Supporting Actor for Can You Ever Forgive Me? – that you root for with a secret realisation that it might just be a little out of reach for reality.

In fact, the absolute unpredictability of Colman’s win was reflected in the chaos of the reactions that followed the moment: As soon as her name was announced, Colman let out a squeal of disbelief, covering her mouth with her hands, as she remained fixed on her seat. Her husband landed a kiss on her left cheek, and seated beside her, co-actor and nominee Emma Stone kissed her on the right cheek, barely managing to contain her smile and unfiltered elation. Lanthimos, seated at a far end from Colman, rushed to her table and went on his knees to hold her hand and give her a hug – all three of them clinging to her while leading her up to accept the award.

Olivia Colman started off her speech with “Ooh, it’s genuinely quite stressful” and ended with an impromptu air-kissing contest with Lady Gaga.

At a time when award ceremonies – especially the Academy – are proving to be woefully predictable while striving only for political correctness, the unrehearsed-ness of Colman’s winning moment felt a little too precious. Because even when award bodies seem to be bogged down while straddling the limitations of their legacy and misdirecting their need to adapt by awarding good intent, awards still continue to appeal because they promise moments like Colman’s win. Moments that render an artist impossibly vulnerable. Moments that genuinely surprise, at its perceived impossibility. And Colman’s acceptance speech – excitedly being regarded as the most endearing awards speech this year – only cemented the need for it.

Colman’s speech started off an acceptance, “Ooh, it’s genuinely quite stressful” and ended with an impromptu air-kissing contest with Lady Gaga while blowing a raspberry at the infamous timer in between and finding time to apologise to Close for defeating her. Colman, who’d already garnered a reputation for endearing acceptance speeches after affectionately calling co-actors Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz “ma bitches” at her Golden Globes win a month ago, sobbed, sniffed, cracked jokes, and clung on to her Oscar while giving a speech that didn’t feel designed or even memorised. Instead it unfolded stream-of-consciousness, and felt genuinely reinvigorating for its emotional honesty, all under three minutes. It left the kooky Lanthimos sobbing, Colman’s husband teary, and Stone’s eyes glistening as she kept cheering Colman with a standing ovation.

It’s rare to witness this lack of artifice in a winning moment that doesn’t feel the need to publicise its flawlessness. Maybe that’s why Colman’s win feels like the realest moment the Oscars have had in years. For the moments that encapsulated her win, it didn’t matter that the Academy is terrible with decision-making, that the Oscars came so close to getting Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph host the ceremony, or that they weren’t good enough. Who’d have thought that was still possible?

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