LIP SERVICE (2003)
The little-seen drama The Pianist makes Adrien Brody an Oscar winner, but it is his acceptance speech that makes him a star, as he takes advantage of his moment at the podium to plant a big, wet, lengthy kiss on startled presenter Halle Berry. ”I bet they didn’t tell you that was in the gift bag,” he quips as he becomes the youngest man ever to win the Best Actor Oscar. A year later, Brody milks the memory for laughs when he delivers the Best Actress prize — and a tamer smooch — to Monster‘s Charlize Theron.
CHEERS FOR CHARLIE (1972)
Little Tramp no more, Charlie Chaplin cut an august figure when he crossed the stage to receive an honorary award from the Academy in 1972. It was a return from exile in many sense, as Chaplin had been living in European exile for decades, due to McCarthyism and his perceived Communist sympathies. When it came to his artistry, the award’s official verbiage credited Chaplin’s ”incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century.” Presenter Daniel Taradash, AMPAS’ then-president, noted, ”Chaplin has become more than a name; it is a word in the vocabulary of films, and anyone who has ever seen a movie is in his debt.” All of these verbal compliments were spot-on, but it was actually a wordless moment — a 12-minute standing ovation from his colleagues and those whom he’d inspired that said much, much more. Even sweeter? Chaplin won his first competitive Oscar the next year: A Best Score statuette for Limelight, which he’d produced a full 20 years before but, per Oscar rules, became eligible again during its premiere Los Angeles screening in 1972. Now that’s the icing on the cake.
NEW YORK, HE LOVES YOU (2002)
Woody Allen has famously opted out of the Oscars ceremony, refusing to attend even when Annie Hall took home the top prize (plus Best Director, Original Screenplay, and Actress) in 1978. Decades later, six months after the Twin Towers were attacked in 2001’s 9/11 attacks, Allen made an exception. As Hollywood’s most famous New Yorker, he received a standing ovation before introducing a Nora Ephron-curated tribute montage to his hometown and immediately quipped, ”Thank you very much, that makes up for the strip search.” The speech that followed was typically self-deprecating and hyper-analytical, yet poignant: ”For New York City, I’ll do anything.”
CHAIRWAY TO HEAVEN (1999)
We suppose that if Sophia Loren shouted our name with such élan, we’d jump out of — and on top of — our chairs. Sure, we couldn’t make any sense of Roberto Benigni’s acceptance speech when his Life is Beautiful won the Best Foreign Language Film award…but we got the gist of it.
HANKS GIVES THANKS (1994)
Tom Hanks won the first of his back-to-back Best Actor Oscars for his revelatory role playing a man dying of AIDS in the 1993 drama Philadelphia. Welling with emotion, Hanks thanked his high school acting teacher and one of his classmates from the same class, calling them ”two of the finest gay Americans.” He continued, ”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.” He continued, his voice breaking, ”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 200 years ago. God bless you all, God have mercy on us all, and God bless America.”
LADIES' FIRST (2010)
It was a ”once-in-a-lifetime moment” when director Kathryn Bigelow leveraged The Hurt Locker, her pure-grit film about the hyper-masculine theatre of war, into a win for all women. Bigelow became the first female director in Oscar history to take home top honors in her field — edging out her ex-husband James Cameron in the process.. In a poignant move, Barbra Streisand — an accomplished director whom many thought had been passed over for her directorial excellence in Yentl and The Prince of Tides — had been tapped to present the trophy, and the pairing underlined that history was being made that night.
CUBA LIBRE (1997)
Winning an Oscar has never seemed as joyous as when Cuba Gooding Jr. won a Best Supporting Actor statuette for his role as undervalued football player Ron Tidwell in Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire. He was having his own party on that stage, and the rest of the world was invited.
SHE HATHAWAY ABOUT HER (2009)
In the midst of host Hugh Jackman’s opening showstopper, the Boy from Oz walked down into the audience and carried Best Actress nominee Anne Hathaway from her seat up onto the stage to musically re-enact a scene from Frost/Nixon. While she at first pretended to be flustered, she quickly let loose her formidable vocal chops and then wrapped her limbs around Jackman as he crooned sweetly to her, ”Oh, Nixon, you know I love you, too.” Sock it to me. This had to have helped earn her a spot as co-host this year with James Franco.
SHORT AND BITTERSWEET (1968)
Five times a Best Director nominee, never a winner. Though the Academy tried to offer Alfred Hitchcock a make-good with its Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, the auteur’s terse acceptance speech (full transcript: ”Thank you.”) spoke volumes about his ambivalence about receiving a lifetime achievement trophy for a career that Oscar stubbornly and repeatedly dismissed.
BERRY EMOTIONAL (2002)
It’s a historic night for African-American actors. Denzel Washington is named Best Actor for Training Day, Sidney Poitier (the first black man to win Best Actor) earns an honorary award, and Halle Berry is the first black woman to be named Best Actress. ”This moment is so much bigger than me,” the Monster’s Ball star says, sobbing. And it is.
HAIR RAISER (1986)
Perhaps Oscar’s first great screw-you fashion moment. Snubbed for her performance in Mask, Cher stuns the fastidious Academy by wearing a belly-baring Bob Mackie number that is one part spider, two parts Vegas showgirl. ”I did receive my Academy booklet on how to dress like a serious actress,” she cracks. Two years later, Cher is named Best Actress for Moonstruck.
America’s sweetheart finally got the respect she deserved when Kevin Spacey revealed that her name was inside the Best Actress envelope. Before getting into her lovely, heartfelt speech, the Erin Brockovich star advised the orchestra’s conductor to ”sit…because I may never be here again.”
PALANCE BEAM (1992)
After 42 years in Hollywood, Jack Palance finally bags an Oscar for playing macho cowboy Curly in City Slickers. Accepting his Best Supporting Actor prize with a nod to host and costar Billy Crystal (he repeats his ”I crap bigger than him” line from the film), the then 72-year-old Palance expresses his joy by dropping to the floor and doing three one-armed push-ups. Palance’s virility becomes fodder for Crystal and his gag writers for the rest of the evening and at the next year’s ceremony as well, when Crystal enters astride a giant Oscar trophy — dragged onstage by Palance.
A TOUCHING TRIBUTE (2009)
Heath Ledger was just months from premiering his buzzy role in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight before audiences when his sudden death in 2008 sent shockwaves around Hollywood. Adding to the gravity of the moment, it was reported that his turn as The Joker may have played a part in depression and anxiety that triggered his accidental overdose. A year later, well after Ledger’s nihilistic performance lived up to the hype, it was little surprise that he — already an Oscar nominee for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain — posthumously won the Best Supporting Actor trophy. His mother Sally Bell, father Kim Ledger, and sister Kate Ledger took the stage to accept the award that Kim said ”would have humbly validated Heath’s quiet determination to be truly accepted by you all here, his peers within an industry he so loved.” Acknowledging the sadness of the occasion, Bell affirmed, ”Tonight we are choosing to celebrate and be happy for what he has achieved.”
LIKE STORY (1985)
Accepting the Best Actress statuette (her second) for Places in the Heart, Sally Field gushes, ”You like me! Right now, you like me!” The ecstatic utterance instantly becomes a punchline — one which she herself uses the following year, before presenting William Hurt with a Best Actor Oscar for Kiss of the Spider Woman, when she says to the crowd, ”Let’s see which one you like — you really, really like.”
GOLDEN GIRL (1969)
”It’s a tie!” exclaims Best Actress presenter Ingrid Bergman: The Lion in Winter‘s Katharine Hepburn and Funny Girl‘s Barbra Streisand both claim the top prize, marking the first (and only) time in Oscar history two women would share the honor. Hepburn is a no-show, and a visibly overwhelmed Babs steals the spotlight by cooing ”Hello, gorgeous!” to her first golden guy.
KINGDOM COME (1998)
Best Director winner James Cameron turns the Academy Awards into an impromptu coronation by declaring (à la Titanic hero Jack Dawson) that he is ”king of the world!” By the end of the night, his $200 million disaster epic sails away with 11 statuettes, including Best Picture, and ties 1959’s Ben-Hur (and, later, 2003’s Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) for the most Oscar wins.
LECTER CIRCUIT (1992)
Eight-time Oscar host Billy Crystal makes his most memorable entrance ever, as The Silence of the Lambs‘ Hannibal Lecter: wearing a muzzle, strapped to a gurney, and wheeled into the room. Crystal recalls later that he’d been worried backstage: ”What if they don’t laugh, and I’m stuck with this mask on my face, going, ‘I thought you’d like it!”’ But Crystal gets a huge laugh that sets the mood for one of the funniest Oscar shows ever. That night, Silence becomes the third (and to date, the last) movie to sweep the top five prizes: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay (Adapted), Actor, and Actress.
By Karyn L. Barr, Scott Brown, Missy Schwartz, Gary Susman, and Keith Staskiewicz
NATIVE APPEAL (1973)
Not even the Don can strong-arm Marlon Brando into attending the ceremony. So when The Godfather star wins Best Actor, his proxy, Apache Sacheen Littlefeather, declines the award, citing the actor’s opposition to ”the treatment of American Indians…by the film industry.” Littlefeather turns out to be an aspiring actress named Maria Cruz.
BUTTING IN (1974)
As David Niven introduces Best Picture presenter Elizabeth Taylor, a nude streaker dashes behind him, flashing a peace sign. The man (later identified as Robert Opal) is apprehended and dragged to the press room for photos. Not to be upstaged, Niven quips, ”Probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings.”