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Last night’s Oscar ceremony showcased the best and the worst of Oscar’s tradition of longwinded acceptance speeches. The one moment of last night’s Oscar ceremony that I was truly dreading was 81-year-old director Robert Altman’s acceptance speech for his honorary lifetime achievement Oscar. Altman is famous among Hollywood insiders and die-hard indie film buffs like me for making inflammatory comments such as, “With Nazis like Bush in the White House, it’s no wonder terrorists are attacking us” and “If Bush gets elected, I’ll move to Paris.” (To his credit, he kept his word, in a way, and moved to London.)

But instead of a bitter, angry tirade, Altman used his time at the podium to utter some of the most eloquent words I have ever heard spoken at the Oscars. In addition to thanking the Academy and his family, he made a special point to honor someone else–a woman in her 30s who, through organ donation, allowed Altman to receive a heart transplant several years ago. Because of her generous gift of life, Altman told the audience, he doesn’t believe his career is coming to a close, but instead that he has another “40 years or more” to keep doing what he loves, making movies. How nice to see Altman recognize, even for a moment, that humility and self-sacrifice accomplishes more than bitterness and hatred any day.

Which is a lesson another Oscar winner, George Clooney, perhaps hasn’t fully learned yet. His Oscar speech, the first of the night, was by far the worst, most self-aggrandizing speech of the evening. I am a big fan of much of Clooney’s recent work, but he truly disappointed me when he began his speech by saying, “There’s a lot of talk about Hollywood being disconnected from the rest of the country. And I think in many ways we are disconnected, and that is a good thing.”

Clooney then went on to give credit to Hollywood for always being the first to talk about tough social issues, while the rest of the country is only “whispering” about them. Really? No one from any “red state” can be credited with leading the way with regard to the social consciousness of our country? Saying that those in Hollywood are better informed–and care more–about social issues than the rest of the country was irresponsible and arrogant. And, in fact, Clooney seemed to recognize the hubris of his comments a few hours later, at the press conference televised on the E! channel. When a reporter pounced on his comments about Hollywood’s leadership in social awareness, Clooney backpedaled, admitting that in some cases Hollywood has actually been slow to tackle tough topics–making him look even more, well, out of touch, with the rest of us.

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