Top 10 Most Memorable Oscar Speeches
Who's saying what
And the Oscar goes to ... someone who needs a new speech writer and a valium.
We love the awkward camera pans to nominees at the Oscars, where they pretend they don’t care if they win and that they’re just honoured to be nominated. And then the overdone laugh and forced smile when someone else wins.
But more notable is the complete disregard many winners have for stage etiquette; on the flipside, there are the occasional few who show extraordinary class. This list mainly deals with the former, namely some of the most interesting/memorable/odd/brave/silly Oscar speeches.
10. Adrien Brody, Best Actor - The Pianist
Who can forget that kiss with Halle Berry? I’ve always suspected she wanted to knee him in the groin, but kudos to Ms Berry for just going with it. That and I kind of like Adrien Brody, because besides being humble and thanking his family for about half an hour, he was just so damn excited then stunned and thanked God by acknowledging just about every religion. So he threw in a message of tolerance for good measure.
9. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, Best Song, 'Falling Slowly' - Once
If only just to hear Glen Hansard jitter his way through a thank you speech and say ‘ting’ instead of ‘thing’, and give last-minute advice to ‘make art’, and to see how Marketa Irglova doesn’t get a word in, it’s worthy of a place in the top 10.
Then host Jon Stewart (sigh) cracks a joke and tells Marketa to come back out and enjoy her moment. Which she does, with incredible sincerity and poise.
Be single, Jon, dammit.
8. Sydney Poitier, Best Actor - Lilies of the Field
Dude could be reading out the ingredients of a cereal box and you’d still be entranced. He just oozes class, and it was no small thing to see a black man win a best actor Oscar in 1964, when people were still doing blackface.
And he kept it short and sweet, and looked happy but humble. He gets five imaginary stars.
7. Jack Palance, Best Supporting Actor - City Slickers
From my rudimentary knowledge of Jack Palance, he was once a big deal for playing creepy characters. Then he sort of disappeared and got old, then got famous again in City Slickers, which is admittedly a rather fun film.
Still, this is a self-indulgent, albeit humorous speech, which involves one-armed push-ups that makes the audience lose their shit. Left me feeling more annoyed than amused, but I’m not sure why. In any case, I still remember it a hundred years later, so he makes the top 10.
6. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Best Original Screenplay - Good Will Hunting
This has got to be the messiest speech ever, though it could have something to do with there being two winners who happen to be BFF.
It was clearly supposed to seem cute and endearing in a frat boy sort of way, but it’s really just a bit annoying and even a bit cringey as Matt yells over a stunned Ben and you just want to throw Maltesers at the screen and tell them to shut up and just take the trophy. Minnie Driver sending them a blank (death) stare as Affleck rattles out a thank you is priceless.
5. Hattie McDaniel, Best Supporting Actress - Gone With the Wind
So much to love here even if it smacks of a token Hollywood-is-not-just-white. Still, it was a huge moment not only for African Americans, as Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to be awarded an Oscar.
She owned the part in Gone With the Wind, and she owned this moment with her awe and quivering voice.
4. Roberto Benigni, Best Actor - Life is Beautiful
It’s a colossal moment of joy, he tells us. This is after he does a trapeze through the auditorium once he’s announced winner. Beautiful movie, spirited speech that requires subtitles and volume control.
Check out Helen Hunt’s quizzical look at 2.40.
Full points for the genuine gratitude and excitement on display.
3. Melissa Leo, Best Supporting Actress - The Fighter
She did a great job in The Fighter, and is worthy of an award, no doubt. But her feigned shock is annoying given she invested in her own ‘For Your Consideration’ posters in the lead-up to awards season. That and she just looks like she has no plans to leave the stage.
She also famously dropped the F-word and flirted with a stroke-ridden Kirk Douglas, which wasn’t funny, but just awkward and inappropriate. We’ll just put it down to the excitement of the moment.
2. Gwyneth Paltrow, Best Actress - Shakespeare in Love
Tears over Oscar are nothing new, but there hasn’t been anyone quite like Gwynnie ... accepting ... this ... (hiccup) award. She really loses it towards the end, in the same way a teenage girl gets high-pitched and unintelligible as she cries over a guy who hasn’t called her back after she thought they’d connected. Gwynnie thanks everyone but the cleaner, but a year or so later she called herself a wimp and bagged her own choice of a hot pink princess dress on Oprah. (I think she looked nice, to be fair).
She did a good job in Shakespeare in Love, but what nearly eclipsed her cry-face speech was the gentle uproar over Cate Blanchett’s loss for Elizabeth.
Note: Halle Berry followed Gwynnie’s example and got hysterical when she won for Monster’s Ball a few years later. Because Gwynnie did it first, I’m running with her.
1. Marlon Brandon (or, erm, Sacheen Littlefeather), Best Actor - The Godfather
It’s not often that Oscars audience boo people, but Michael Moore aside, the audience wasn’t impressed when Marlon Brando gave the Academy the middle finger and sent Sacheen Littlefeather to reject his Oscar for The Godfather.
Littlefeather maintains completely calm as the audience starts to boo her when she explains that Brando is protesting the poor treatment of native Americans.
Greer Garson, Best Actress - Mrs Miniver
So you know how the orchestra likes to screw with all the winners and start playing the music before they’ve gotten through their gratitude list? I think we have Greer Garson to thank for that, because back in 1942 when she won for best actress, she apparently delivered a six-minute long speech.
Cher, Best Actress - Moonstruck
Great movie, but really we’re just here to note the dress. Whatever Cher’s accomplishment in the movie (particularly that famous moment when Cher slaps Nicholas Cage across the face and yells, “Snap out of it!”), everyone was just looking at the dress. At least what there was of it.
Anna Paquin, Best Supporting Actress - The Piano
Anna Paquin has come a long way from the tiny Oscar winner, one of the youngest in history. She just stares in shock at everyone for several seconds, but eventually delivers a short, heartfelt speech. She looks like a kid in a candy store. Excited to be there and no doubt envisaging her future stripping down naked with vampires.
Colin Firth, Best Actor - The King’s Speech
He’s clearly prepared, opening with “I have a feeling my career’s just peaked”, but he is so goddamn adorable and bumbling Englishman about it, you just want to pinch his cheeks and give him a cuddle. And it’s not because he’s Darcy, he is just awesome.
Sally Field, Best Supporting Actress - Places of the Heart
This speech is more famous than the role Sally Field won it for, but who can’t adore this woman as she joyously yells: “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now. You like me!” I even use a paraphrased version of the line and I’m just a year shy of Gen Y. This woman is going down in history as the cutest best actress winner ever.
Cuba Gooding Jr, Best Supporting Actor - Jerry Maguire
Everyone talks about the Oscar curse, where all the best actresses end up divorced because their hubbies are jealous. But there’s another type of curse, and that’s the one whereby a winner follows up an award-winning performance with B-grade movies. Can you say “unemployable”? Still, this speech shows some serious love. No idea where he is now, but he should come back and show us the money! (Had to go there.)