Golden Globes: Decoding Those Acceptance Speeches (and Hidden Messages to the Academy)

Emma Stone, Casey Affleck

Behind even the most sincere words — from Casey Affleck's shoutout to his kids to Ryan Gosling dedicating his award to partner Eva Mendes' late brother — are subliminal points aimed at a bigger prize.

There's a memorable scene in Woody Allen's 1977 masterpiece, Annie Hall, when the romantic leads, Alvy Singer (Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), engage in the first ritual of courtship — the blandest of conversations, taking place while they have drinks on a balcony. Their conversation goes like this:

Annie I would like to take a serious photography course.

Alvy Photography's interesting, 'cause, you know, it's a new art form and a set of esthetic criteria has not emerged yet.

What punctures the pretentiousness and makes the scene so memorable is that even as they keep talking, their private thoughts are revealed in subtitles that accompany the dialogue:

Annie He probably thinks I'm a yo-yo.

Alvy I wonder what she looks like naked?

Allen's point is clear: Speech needs to be decoded; behind even the most innocuous of comments lies a raft of other meanings; what we think people are saying isn't necessarily what they're saying at all.

Watching the Golden Globes, it was hard not to remember this. Rarely have the winners' thank-you's seemed as carefully crafted and aimed at an audience beyond the 90 or so members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association who present the Globes. That's because, as awards season enters its critical post-Globes phase, the candidates — helped by a flotilla of publicists and advisers — are thinking of the bigger prizes, the Oscars, and honing their messages just as much as any political candidate who moves from one primary victory to the next. Heartfelt as the winners' speeches were, they also were lobbed at Academy members, who happen to be in the midst of nominations voting.

Perhaps that's why these remarks were subtly different from those at awards shows of old, which so often have been dominated by lists (and even listicles) of agents, managers, family and friends. These speeches also conveyed subliminal points strategists want to hit home.

Consider Casey Affleck. I was as touched by his speech as anyone, while noting that it seemed designed to deflect from recent THR and New York Times articles that asked whether a double standard was at play when it came to the allegations around women that have been made against him and Birth of a Nation's Nate Parker.

"Despite how I might think I'm in charge at my house, it's my kids who give me permission to do this because they have got the strength of character to keep at bay all the noise that sometimes surrounds people who live publicly and to let me travel for months at a time," he said. "So I love you, Indiana and Atticus, thank you very much. And to their mom, who gave me just about every good acting idea I ever had, thank you very much, I love you."

That hearth-and-home talk was an excellent antidote to allegations of sexual harassment, just as Ryan Gosling's speech praising partner Eva Mendes was the perfect warm-up for a guy without the kind of backstory voters often fancy.

"I just would like to try and thank one person properly," he said, "and say that while I was singing and dancing and playing piano and having one of the best experiences I've ever had on a film, my lady was raising our daughter, pregnant with our second and trying to help her brother fight his battle with cancer. If she hadn't taken all that on so that I could have this experience, it would surely be someone else up here other than me today. So sweetheart, thank you." Dedicating his prize to Mendes' brother was an added bonus, prompting Time to note it "melted hearts everywhere" — hopefully including those of the 7,000 Academy members.

These speeches proved you can be sincere and still effective, especially in giving the pictures a boost. None was more on-message than La La Land.

"This is a film for dreamers," said Emma Stone. "Hope and creativity are two of the most important things in the world, and that's what this movie is about."

As if that didn't make the point clear enough, producer Marc Platt made it unmistakable when he jumped to the mic at the end of the evening. "Thank you to our cast, crew and to Damien [Chazelle] for reminding us of the magic and the power of cinema," he said, "to make us feel not from cynicism or irony but with unbridled joy and passion, to dream more urgently, to live more fervently and to love more deeply — and now more than ever to find music and cinema that enters our mind and our soul and our hearts and unites us."

Too bad some backstage cynic cut him off before he could finish his speech.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.