OSCAR HISTORY: The Best & Worst Oscar Moments of all Time
THE BEST & THE WORST
OSCAR MOMENTS OF ALL TIME
Some have asked me why I make such a big deal about the Oscars, and it's simple ... for those of us who truly love film, the Academy Awards are the one and only major event where the entire craft and history of movie making is celebrated. The Golden Globes and other awards events sometimes honor other art forms, like television along with movies, and don't tend to honor anyone other than actors and directors. The Academy Awards are also tradition, having been around since 1927, almost spanning the entire history of motion pictures. And they are the most revered and remembered awards ... once a person wins an Oscar, they forever have "Oscar winner" before their name. Oscar Night is an experience like none other, when a communal network of people across the globe come together to celebrate not only the past year's film achievements, but also to honor Hollywood's legends, pay tribute to the artists and films that helped form the industry, and above all, honor the truly memorable and greatest achievements for each year in film.
These choices were difficult to make, but number one was a pretty easy choice for me, and I think most Oscar and movie scholars would agree. Through this list, I hope to remind everyone how precious the Oscars are ... they are much more than just another awards show (and it does seem like we have so many nowadays!) ... it's the night that the filmmaking industry honors its own, saying this is the best of what we all collectively did this year. What an incredible honor to receive that from your peers, and we, the collective 1 billion watching around the world, are welcomed into that party, and we celebrate along with them, particularly those of us for whom film is much more than a mindless diversion for a Saturday night. The Academy Awards honor film for the art that they are, not for the money they make or how popular they might be.
So, what criteria went into making these selections? Basically, I covered every single awards ceremony from 1927 to 2002 ... for the ones I was never able to watch, I pored through all of the major books which recounted the Oscar ceremonies in great detail. I selected moments that typically transcended the Oscar telecast, moments that were powerful either emotionally or for the sheer history happening at that moment. Sometimes it was a simple moment of an actor finally receiving his due, or a precious moment when a true legend was on Oscar's stage. These are the best of the best, the 50 moments in Oscar's history which deserve to be remembered far into the next century.
51) This moment has to be on the list ... May 16, 1929, at 8:00 PM, in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel ... the first ever Academy Awards. A lavish banquet, only about five minutes of which was made up of presenting Oscars, this was the moment that started it all. Douglas Fairbanks presented all the awards that night, and none of them could have ever imagined that night how big the Oscars would eventually become.
50) From 1996 - Cuba Gooding Jr. accepting his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for JERRY MAGUIRE. When he exceeded his allotted speech-making time, the orchestra began to play him off, but Cuba was defiant, yelling over top of the orchestra, expressing his love and thanks to everyone he wanted to, igniting riotous applause from the audience.
49) From 2001 - The Cirque de Soleil performance. It was an absolutely beautiful and stunning performance by these most talented of dancers and acrobats, and was perfectly cast to take advantage of the new Kodak Theater location. They timed their performance perfectly with various film clips, and it was one of the greatest Oscar Night performances ever put together.
48) From 1998 - Norman Jewison's speech when accepting the Irving G. Thalberg award. Jewison made several comments which drew well-deserved applause, most notably as he inspired new and struggling filmmakers to write good stories, and saying that the best movie is not always the one that makes the most money. It was an argument for the art of the movies over the commerce of the movies.
47) From 1995 - The offbeat group Stomp was on stage performing a memorable number in which they created sound effects to a running montage of various film clips behind them, matching their steps and sounds perfectly with the film, demonstrating the craft of sound effects and sound effects editing.
46) From 1997 - Stanley Donen tap-dancing and singing his acceptance speech for his Honorary Oscar. It was a lighthearted moment that brought thunderous applause, and was an example of how much class so many of the pioneers of cinema had and continue to have.
45) From 1991 - Jack Palance doing one-armed pushups when accepting Best Supporting Actor for CITY SLICKERS. Jack Palance brought the house down when he wanted to prove he could still compete physically with the actors of today, after commenting that he crapped bigger than Billy Crystal. It was a hilarious moment, one of the few that have momentarily paused the seriousness of Oscar and remain imprinted in our memories.
44) From 1999 - Michael Caine's acceptance speech when he won Best Supporting Actor for THE CIDER HOUSE RULES. This still ranks as one of the greatest unscripted speeches in Oscar history, incredible because of how gracious Caine was he was up on stage. He was also so moved by the Oscar, especially after walking up on stage and turning around to see the audience on their feet. He then proceeded to give a wonderfully gracious speech, mentioning each of the other nominees in his category by name, giving Tom Cruise his due, joking to him saying "that if he had won this, his price would have gone down so fast. Do you have any idea how much supporting actors get paid?" Future Oscar winners could learn a lot from Caine's speech ... it was unscripted, from the heart, and so incredibly gracious. What an incredible moment.
43) From 1940 - This one is important because of its historical significance ... in 1940, for the first time, the sealed envelope was used to prevent anyone finding out the winners before the telecast. Prior to 1940, newspapers for the next day printed the winners, and were often available as the telecast was starting or just beginning to start. Also before then, they often revealed the actual voting totals at the ceremony (something I still wish was done today), but the sealed envelope forever made the Oscar race a surprise until that hallowed moment when the envelope was opened.
42) From 1940 - President Roosevelt giving a radio address to the filmmakers in attendance before the telecast began ... certainly an event which we're not likely to see happen again, having a current President add an even more important touch to the Oscar ceremonies. Roosevelt gave a six minute radio address that night, lauding Hollywood for its defense of fund raising efforts and praising filmmakers for promoting the American way of life.
41) From 2000 - Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman performing portions of the nominated musical scores before the award was given. Now THIS is how the Best Music - Original Score Oscar nominees should be presented every year! At the 2000 Oscars, two of the most accomplished musicians of our time came out on stage to perform portions of the nominated scores, and it was absolutely beautiful. They performed music from THE PATRIOT and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON among others, and it finally gave the musical scores their due without some ridiculous dance number to present parts of the score.
40) From 1989 - Legendary Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa receiving an Honorary Oscar from two contemporary Hollywood legends, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Kurosawa was clearly one of the geniuses of cinema, and in a film clip before he approached the stage, we were reminded just how incredible a director he was, especially for his visual style. A live remote from family and friends in Japan even helped celebrate his moment.
39) From 1952 - That year, for the first time, the Academy Awards were presented on television, and from there, the audience would just continue to grow and the show would become more and more of a cultural icon. Previous to 1952, the telecast had been broadcast on radio, not always the complete show, and once it hit television, it was there to stay. Because of its broadcast on television, over a billion people around the world now tune in for the annual awards.
38) From 1941 - Walt Disney tearfully accepting the Thalberg award. Even though his FANTASIA had received a couple of honorary Oscars that night, Disney was in tears admitting to the film's failure at the box office, and saying that we apparently must learn from mistakes. He had had two big hits with SNOW WHITE and PINOCCHIO, and all of his hopes for FANTASIA did not connect with audiences of the time. So many years later, the film would become successful, and even his dream of a sequel would come true long after his death.
37) From 1937 - Legendary comedy innovator Mack Sennett getting an Honorary Oscar. W.C. Fields presented him with the award, and it was another rare moment when one of the true legends who literally helped create the film industry was being honored. What was sad at the time was that by 1937, when the slapstick physical humor which made him so successful during the silent films had faded with the advent of sound, he was retired from the film business and penniless. It was another example of some of the careers that ended when the sound film arrived.
36) From 1966 - Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers arriving on stage to present the Writing awards. In a small impromptu moment, Astaire grabbed Rogers and swung her around in a little spin, plus a couple of dance moves, and the audience loved it. A warm reminder of the many film moments the couple had provided in years before.
35) From 1976 - Boxer Muhammed Ali surprised presenter Sylvester Stallone on stage, claiming he was the real Apollo Creed, and the two even sparred on stage. After the goofing around, Stallone made a very sincere statement, saying that even though he might not win anything that night, he would still remember this night forever to be standing next to a "100% certified legend."
34) From 1998 - Roberto Benigni winning Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor for LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL. The exuberant Italian director, actor, and writer jumped up on seats when his film won for Foreign Film, and even bounced to the stage to accept his award. He was so genuinely happy to see his film honored, and continued his exuberance during his acceptance speeches ... it was definitely one of the more humorous moments in Oscar history.
33) From 1977 - Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden presenting the Sound Oscar. A rare example of pure graciousness and sincerity, William Holden paused to tell a story before they presented their Oscar, to pay a special tribute to his good friend and acting partner Stanwyck. Stanwyck had no idea the tribute was coming. Holden continued discussing the tribulations that were going on the set of the film GOLDEN BOY, and that he owed his career to Stanwyck who stuck up for him when things looked bad. Stanwyck was overwhelmed by the tribute, and hugged her good friend.
32) From 1993 - Bruce Springsteen's performance of his Oscar-winning song STREETS OF PHILADELPHIA. Maybe it was because the song was so sobering and true, but when Springsteen took to the stage to sing the song he also wrote for the film PHILADELPHIA, the performance was as moving and sobering as the song's lyrics and the movie's subject matter. Springsteen would of course win the Best Song Oscar, and became one of the few songwriters to win that award, and receive a huge standing ovation. Both were well deserved.
31) From 1986 - Legendary actress Bette Davis, at age 78, made her first Oscar appearance since her 1983 stroke, and it was so memorable to see a true legend on the stage again.
30) From 1970 - Lillian Gish being awarded an Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. Again, this was another incredible moment, when Hollywood finally honored one of the true legends who helped create the film industry. Lillian Gish had been well known as one of the more serious dramatic actors of the silent film age, and it was time for her to be honored.
29) From 1967 - Alfred Hitchcock receiving the Thalberg award. Amazingly, this was the only honor ever bestowed by the Academy on Hitchcock, who was clearly one of the greatest film directors who ever lived. He finally was able to grace Oscar's stage in 1967, to receive an award for producing credentials.
28) From 1963 - Sidney Poitier winning Best Actor for LILIES IN THE FIELD. During such a turbulent time for race relations in America, a very significant event occurred at the Academy Awards ... Sidney Poitier became the first black male to win one of the coveted leading acting awards, and was clearly an inspiration to black actors and actresses who came after him.
27) From 1935 - Legendary director D.W. Griffith receiving a Special Academy Award. This was also well known because it was the first standing ovation in Oscar history. D.W. Griffith was again one of the legendary individuals who literally created the film industry, and he was well known for the epics of the silent cinema that still to this day are awe-inspiring. In 1935, he appeared to accept one of the first Honorary Special awards bestowed by the Academy, and he gave a very powerful and very true speech, one so great and from an individual who so clearly loved the craft of moviemaking, that I had to include it here ... he said "We had many worries in those days, small worries. Now you people have your worries and they are big ones. They have grown with the business ... and no matter what its problems, it's the greatest business in the world." The speech brought tears to the eyes of the people in attendance.
26) From 1970 - Orson Welles receiving an Honorary Oscar. Even though his acceptance of the award was on tape, it was still justice for Welles to finally receive this Oscar, after being slighted so heavily in 1941 for his incredible masterpiece CITIZEN KANE.
25) From 2001 - Woody Allen making his first appearance ever at the Academy Awards. He's won Oscars before, he has been nominated many times, especially for writing awards. But yet, he was one of those few who had decided to never show up at the Oscars, even to accept his own awards. But finally, the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and a special invitation by the Academy brought him to Oscar's stage for the first time, and what a moment. He was invited to introduce a film clip retrospective of various films shot in New York City, including his own beautiful tribute to the city, MANHATTAN. It had been a well kept secret that Allen would be appearing, and he arrived on stage to a very warm standing ovation. He then proceeded to give a wonderful comic, self-deprecating, and sincere intro to why he accepted the Academy's invitation this time, and then rolled the film, reminding us of the beauty of a city which had undergone such hell in that terrible year.
24) From 1978 - Laurence Olivier's acceptance speech when he accepted his Honorary Oscar. It still must rank as one of the most eloquent speeches in Academy Award history, and Olivier apparently was putting it together all on the spot. No written speech to read from, he was very eloquent in his thanks, and again it showed the real class of the true Hollywood legends.
23) From 1995 - Kirk Douglas receiving an Honorary Oscar. This was a very memorable moment. Kirk Douglas, an actor known for his often tough characters, had recently suffered a stroke, and on Oscar's stage in 1995, he still mustered the strength to accept his award, even though his mouth had suffered nerve damage, and he wasn't quite the same as he was before. He was proud of his award, and his four sons were all in the audience that night, and the camera caught Michael Douglas openly crying for his father.
22) From 1995 - the winner of the Best Documentary award brought a special guest to the stage ... the audience was immediately brought to its feet when the Documentary Oscar winner introduced the woman standing next to him, the woman who saved Anne Frank's diary. The ovation went on, almost as long if it had been for a more well known Hollywood legend. It was amazing to see this woman on Oscar's history, a woman so important to history, for saving the words of Anne Frank for future generations. Oscar had every reason to feel proud at that moment.
21) From 1996 - Billy Crystal's triumphant return as host to the Academy Awards. The '40s and '50s had Bob Hope as the man most associated with Oscar because of his many hosting jobs, the '70s had Johnny Carson, and in the '90s, comedian Billy Crystal became the one name who many felt was the best man to host the Oscars. His first hosting assignment was for the 1989 awards, and he continued as host for three more years after that. In 1993, he decided to stop hosting the Oscars for a while, and for three years, two other comedians took the reins, Whoopi Goldberg for two years, and David Letterman for one disastrous year. So when Billy Crystal agreed to return for the 1996 Oscars to host, everyone was very excited, and the audience gave him a standing ovation, warmly welcoming him back to hosting the Oscars, clearly sending the message that they wanted Billy as their Oscar host, and no others could compare. You could tell he was genuinely moved by the salute.
20) From 1946 - Harold Russell winning two Oscars for one memorable performance in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. Harold Russell was a real WWII veteran, who had lost both of his arms, and he portrayed a wounded veteran returning from war in that classic film. The ovation given him on Oscar night brought tears to his eyes, as we saw a rare example of reality and Hollywood coming together in such a powerful and profound way.
19) From 1996, 1997, & 1999 - Host Billy Crystal cleverly editing himself into a montage of scenes from the Oscar nominated films of each year. This was an incredible idea. Thanks to wonderful new film technologies, the '96 and '97 Oscars opened with a montage of film putting Billy into all the various Best Picture nominees in one way or the other, and the results were hilarious! They were even funnier in 1999 when Crystal edited himself into classic film clips as well.
18) From 1982 - Mickey Rooney's humbling acceptance speech for his Honorary Oscar. Mickey Rooney gave one of the most profoundly sad and true acceptance speeches in Oscar history ... he talked about back when he was a kid in the '30s, he was the number one star in the world. A few years later, he was broke, and nobody offered him work (nobody wanted me). He relayed the sad truth of Hollywood sometimes, that fame can be so fleeting and so temporary, and he ended on a positive note, thanking the people who helped get him work again.
17) From 1993 - Tom Hanks giving a very emotional acceptance speech when winning Best Actor for PHILADELPHIA. His touching speech is worth repeating here: "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. 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 commonsense truth that is made manifest by the benevolent creator of us all."
16) From 1995 - Christopher Reeve's surprise appearance on the telecast. Christopher Reeve, once known for his heroic Superman role, had recently suffered a major spinal cord injury, forcing him into a wheelchair. On the night of the 1995 Oscars, the curtain opened to reveal him on stage. The standing ovation was immediate and long-lasting, and several people in the audience were on the verge of tears. He was there to present a film clip of moments from films that dealt with social issues, but seeing the bravery of him on stage still is a memory not to be soon forgotten.
15) From 1973 - One of the most infamous moments in Oscar history is clearly the night when a nude streaker came running across Oscar's stage flashing a peace sign. But I'm not including that particular moment as one of Oscar's Greatest Moments, because it was actually one of the more embarrassing (where was the security?). But I include the moment immediately afterward, because it ranks as one of the best recoveries in history - David Niven, who was hosting at the time, after recovering from laughing, came up with such a great recovery saying "Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was bound to happen. But isn't it fascinating to think that the only laugh that man will probably ever get in his life was when he stripped off to show his shortcomings." The audience roared with even more laughter.
14) From 1993 - Steven Spielberg finally winning an Oscar, for his masterpiece SCHINDLER'S LIST. After so many great films, one was beginning to think that the Academy would never give Spielberg an Oscar. Finally, in 1993, he made a film so stunningly powerful that the Academy could no longer ignore this incredible film genius. He first was awarded Best Director, and he received a large standing ovation, and he delivered a very heartfelt speech, thanking his wife Kate Capshaw and his mother, and concluding with a solemn tribute to the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust. A little bit later, Spielberg returned to the stage to accept a producing Oscar when his film won Best Picture. He had put so much effort and skill into SCHINDLER'S LIST, and it was time for him to be honored.
13) From 1979 - Dustin Hoffman's acceptance speech when winning Best Actor for KRAMER VS. KRAMER. Hoffman had a tough task ... in the 1970s, Dustin Hoffman had been well known for his criticism of the Academy, calling it a garish and embarrassing evening, and was even rebuked by Frank Sinatra at the 1975 show. So when he took the stage to accept his first Best Actor Oscar, he gave a very good speech where he explained his past criticism of the Academy, saying that he refused to believe that the other four nominees in his category lost and he won over them. He praised the artistic community of actors, only a handful of which are so lucky to attain the status that Hoffman had. He went to say that most actors have to drive a taxi while doing auditions, and he praised them all, saying that none of them have ever lost. The crowd was overwhelmed by the sentiment, and in a way, it made a lot of sense ... Hoffman was saying that actors are a community, and who is to say that one is better than the other.
12) From 1992 - Al Pacino finally winning an Oscar, Best Actor for SCENT OF A WOMAN. Pacino was clearly one of contemporary Hollywood's greatest actors, but amazingly, even though he was nominated several times, he never won. His roles in the GODFATHER films, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, and others, all amazingly overlooked. But finally, in 1992, Pacino won his Oscar, and the standing ovation lasted a long time. After telling the Academy that they had broke his losing streak, he delivered a very powerful and emotional speech inspiring young people to give it a try if they think they can make it in the movies. And the emotion of the moment clearly showed on Pacino's face.
11) From 1997 -- The on stage gathering of 70 of the past acting Oscar winners. In celebration of its 70th anniversary, the Academy invited back all of the individuals who had won Leading or Supporting Acting awards throughout the Academy's history, and then brought them all out on stage at once. 70 of them showed up, ranging from the most recent winners to some of the oldest -- Luise Rainier, winner of two Oscars back to back in the 30's, Shirley Temple Black was there and ended up receiving the biggest applause. As the camera panned by each one and the announcer introduced each one, old film footage showed the film they won for and the moment they were on stage claiming their Oscar. It was a very nostalgic moment, but as you watched them, you realized that so many great legends were not there, and it hit home even more just how much Hollywood is completely moving away from the golden days of Hollywood, as we have nearly lost all of the true legends of cinema.
10) From 1990 -- Special film where actors and directors talked about their "first times", their very first movie experiences. Bob Hope, in one of his last appearances on the Oscar telecast when he was still in good shape, surprisingly walked on stage to a very warm reception. He then introduced this film package, assembled by veteran filmmaker Chuck Workman. The package was extraordinary, as it prompted thoughts in our own minds of the first movies we ever saw. It was fascinating to hear Katharine Hepburn talk about her movie idols, hearing Richard Harris and Candice Bergen talking about the thrill of seeing SNOW WHITE, Michael Douglas telling how he saw LILLY 9 times ... many humorous moments and many nostalgic moments were edited together, and it became one of the more memorable film packages used on the Oscars.
9) From 1980 -- Henry Fonda accepting his Honorary Oscar, one year before he would win Best Actor. He was 75 years old, and amazingly enough, he had also never won an Oscar. So in 1980, the Academy voted him an Honorary Oscar, and the legendary actor hobbled on stage with a cane to accept the award. It was simply amazing to see one of the true greats of old Hollywood on Oscar's stage that night.
8) From 1958 -- Ingrid Bergman's first public appearance in Hollywood since 1949. One of the brightest and most beautiful actresses of the golden age of Hollywood had to be Ingrid Bergman. She had left Hollywood completely after making such incredible films like CASABLANCA. And in 1958, Cary Grant introduced her as the presenter of the Best Picture Oscar, and seeing her on Oscar's stage again was truly magnificent.
7) From 1975 -- Louise Fletcher's acceptance speech when she won Best Actress for ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. This speech was so memorable because at the conclusion of her remarks, she broke down in tears as she gave her final thanks to her parents, who were both deaf. She began using sign language to communicate to them her thanks and love, as they watched from their home in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a very moving moment.
6) From 2001 -- Halle Berry winning the Best Actress Oscar for MONSTER'S BALL and the overwhelming emotion she expressed on her historical win. Out of all of the acting categories in Oscar history, up until 2001, there had never been an African American Best Leading Actress winner. When that moment finally arrived in 2001, and Halle Berry's name was read from the envelope, she clearly realized the enormity of this moment in history, and broke down into tears, hardly able to even take the stage. Once she did arrive on stage and clutched that Oscar for the first time, she was still in tears, almost unable to speak. When she did finally speak, she let the emotion of the moment just pour out. She stated how this moment was so much larger than her, citing all the black women that had gone before her, and all the colleagues she stands alongside in this moment. It was so nice to see an actor exhibit such raw emotion on an Oscar victory. It's one of the few Oscar speeches that actually brought tears to my own eyes, and it was so great to see history being made.
5) From 1978 -- A frail and ill John Wayne making it on stage to present Best Picture. The year before, Bob Hope had issued get well wishes to the Duke, saying he hoped that Wayne would make it back next year to amble down there in person. Well, the next year, at the 1978 Oscars, Johnny Carson introduced a certified legend, John Wayne. The ovation was one of the longer ones in Oscar history, and it was such a sight to see a much more frail John Wayne taking the stage, so ravaged by the cancer that had been plaguing him. But the courage he presented was astounding. At the end of the telecast, a group of actors joined the Duke on stage in a final tribute. And just a short two months later, the world would lose John Wayne. That moment on the Oscars ended up being his last public appearance, and with his death, the world lost one of the true giants and heroes of the silver screen.
4) From 1989 -- "Over the Rainbow" sung by Los Angeles audience and six other countries via live remote. Michelle Pfeiffer walked out on stage towards the end of the 62nd Annual Oscars, and talked about the magic of movie music, and said "this is one of my favorites" ... Diana Ross then took to the stage, singing the classic song from THE WIZARD OF OZ, "Over the Rainbow." She then encouraged the audience in L.A. to sing with her, and then, on a huge tv screen behind her, live images from five other locations around the globe, including Australia, England, Japan, and Moscow. The respective stars at those locations and the audiences there joined in singing, and for the briefest of moments, the world was united thanks to modern day technology, all singing together one of the most beautifully written songs in film history. It was very stirring.
3) From 1973 -- Katharine Hepburn's only appearance on the Oscar show. It didn't last very long, but oh what a moment. She is the most honored actor in the Academy's history, having received twelve acting nominations and a record four Oscars. But she never appeared on the Oscars until 1973, when she agreed to present the Thalberg award to Lawrence Weingarten ... she was on stage just briefly, made a comment about being away from the Oscars, and as soon as she was done, she was out of there in a limo, and the Oscars never saw her again. Hepburn, recently selected the greatest living legend actress by the American Film Institute in its recent "100 Stars" special, is by far one of the greatest legends of the film business, and she never attended the Oscars for most likely the same reason some others do not, that she doesn't believe in the competition among actors. Even to this day, she is still outspoken, and is one of the only surviving links to the entire history of Hollywood. That one moment she appeared on the Oscars was the glimpse of a dream of seeing her on stage holding one of her Oscars.
2) From 1939 -- Hattie McDaniel winning Best Supporting Actress for GONE WITH THE WIND. This was such an incredibly important landmark event not only in the history of the Academy, but for the history of film and the status of black people in American society. She was already notable by her nomination, being the first black person to ever sit at an Academy banquet. And when she won the award, she became the first black person to ever win an Oscar. She was visibly moved to tears by the award, and perhaps felt the weight of what her victory meant. It was indeed a very proud moment for the Academy and for the film industry.
And finally, by far, the number one greatest moment in the entire history of the Oscars has to be :
1) From 1971 -- Charlie Chaplin returning to Hollywood to receive an Honorary Academy Award. I don't think there will ever be a moment that could ever top this one. Chaplin was legendary ... back in the silent days of cinema, he not only helped create the movies, he was the world's most popular and most recognizable star. However, as the 1930's approached, and the movies moved to sound, Chaplin resisted, and his Little Tramp character slowly died out. His politics continued to get him into trouble, and eventually in 1952, he left the United States for good, on a self-imposed exile which would last 20 years. Finally, in 1971, he accepted the Academy's invitation to return to the town that made him famous and that he helped form to accept this honorary Oscar. Chaplin was more than just a legend, he was an icon. You could get the sense that night that everyone was electrified in being in the same room at this historic moment. They waited till the very end of the telecast, even after Best Picture had been presented to THE FRENCH CONNECTION. Academy President at the time Daniel Taradash then took the stage to introduce a film clip retrospective of Chaplin's career. When the lights went up, Chaplin was already on stage, and the audience rose to its feet, where they proceeded to give Chaplin the longest standing ovation in Academy Awards history. He was clearly surprised and deeply moved to see the contemporary Hollywood applauding him with such respect and with such love. He began his speech saying that "words were too feeble" to be able to express what he was feeling at that moment, and after his speech, Jack Lemmon came on stage and handed Chaplin a hat and cane, and Chaplin put them on, again bringing another round of majestic applause by the audience. Chaplin would then be joined on the stage by an onslaught of contemporary stars, and the night went into history. It was such a sight to see Chaplin on that stage with contemporary actors of the time, and how the tide had been changing into the new Hollywood, and it's even more poignant to look back on it now, when so many of the true giants of cinema are no longer with us.
But we always have the Oscars which have chronicled the passage of time. They began just as the sound film changed everything, and they have been with us ever since. And from time to time, Hollywood's legends which formed the industry have been honored, and through the Oscars, we have managed to visit a small piece of time every year, seeing what films were moving people at that time, the fashions of the time, the popular actors of the time.
And on the flip side of these memorable moments, here are the 13 worst moments in Academy Awards history. These were moments that didn't make Oscar proud, moments that we'd just as soon forget. Some are infamous, some were downright embarrassing, and some simply defied belief for why they even happened. So with that, I give you my choices for the 13 Worst Academy Awards Moments of the Century ...
13) I don't know exactly what year they started this, but one of the worst moments was when they instituted the 45 second acceptance speech limit rule. Sure, this might be necessary for winners who just list a bunch of names, but what's wrong with letting the speeches go a little long? Some speeches are very eloquent, and if they are concerned about the show running long, it's going to run long anyways, so what's an extra minute or so per speech? This is their moment, let them relish it.
12) From 1991 -- Jonathan Demme's acceptance speech for Best Director for THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. He's definitely a great film director, but his long acceptance speech contained so many "um"s it finally became laughable. Perhaps I was just mad because Oliver Stone didn't win Director for JFK, but even when I watch it again nowadays, it still was one of the most annoying acceptance speeches in Oscar history.
11) From 1941 -- the Academy's virtual shutout of Orson Welles and his masterpiece CITIZEN KANE. CITIZEN KANE has been universally regarded by critics and even the American Film Institute recently as the greatest film ever made. And yet in 1941, the Academy thought Welles too successful and powerful at such a young age, and as typically happens when a film engenders controversy, the Academy ignored it, awarding it only for Screenplay. No Best Director prize for Welles, which he clearly should have won, and no Best Picture award. This was one major example of the Academy seriously misstepping, and letting a truly great film masterpiece go disturbingly unrewarded because of the politics at the time.
10) From 1998 -- Best Picture going to SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE instead of the clear masterpiece SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Critics were almost universal in their praise, and as soon as it was released, Steven Spielberg's epic WWII drama SAVING PRIVATE RYAN couldn't have been a more clear Best Picture winner. But ugly, shameless Oscar campaigning put SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE over the top, and again, a true film masterpiece went disturbingly unrewarded ... by the end of Oscar night, a film almost all critics agreed was one of the year's five best films, had won only one major award, Best Director, and four other technical awards. Definitely another one of the mistaken choices in Oscar history.
9) From 1952 -- THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH winning Best Picture. Presenter Mary Pickford even seemed shocked when she presented the Best Picture Oscar that year. And it later prompted someone to say "Who picks these things anyway?" There were so many other great films that year, and ultimately the Academy picked a lightweight spectacle film, that now ranks as one of the most undeserving winners of Oscar's most coveted prize.
8) From 1994 -- Martin Landau's acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor for ED WOOD being cut off by the orchestra. One of the prime bad examples of the Academy's 45 second limit, Martin Landau, one of Hollywood's great veterans, finally won his first Oscar, and was about to deliver a final tribute to the actor he portrayed in the film, Bela Lugosi, but instead the orchestra cut him off, and it was another example of how the Academy should at least let the acting and directing winners give their full speeches, and stop cutting them off to save a little time.
7) From 1972 -- the infamous moment when Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather in his place when he won Best Actor for THE GODFATHER. Definitely one of the more infamous moments in Oscar history, Littlefeather, who actually was not even Apache Indian as she said, but merely an actress, came on stage to say that Brando could not accept his Oscar because of the film industry's treatment of Native Americans. Any Oscar winner choosing to use the Academy Awards as a pulpit for their political propaganda is always a moment in bad taste, but Brando outdid everyone with this one.
6) From 1994 -- Host David Letterman getting Tom Hanks on stage to help him with a stupid pet trick. And how stupid it was. This was simply a bizarre choice for the Oscars ... Letterman had a dog on stage who would respond to audience applause by spinning around in a circle. To add insult to injury, he pulled Tom Hanks from the crowd, certainly one of Oscar's most respected actors, to help him lay down a huge carpet for the dog. Hanks was even seeming to look on in disbelief ... (wow, I won Best Actor last year, I'm favored to win again this year, and Letterman has me up here watching a dog spin around) ... you could just picture those thoughts in his head. The only funny moment from that bit was when Letterman insulted Hanks a bit, saying "Would it have killed you to wear a tie?"
5) From 1977 -- Vanessa Redgrave's controversial acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress for JULIA. This is probably the most well known example of an Oscar winner choosing to use their special Oscar winning moment to engage in controversial political discussion. She commented about the "Zionist hoodlums" and her pledge to fight against anti-Semitism and facism. It ignited a huge controversy, and even prompted Paddy Chayefsky to come on the stage later and say how appalled he was by what Redgrave had done.
4) From 1988 -- The Rob Lowe/Snow White opening musical number. Not only was this another moment that defied belief, as most of the opening production numbers often are, but it also got the Academy in some legal trouble for using Disney's image of Snow White. They'll be making fun of this moment years and years from now.
3) From 1998 -- The musical interpretation of the Best Original Dramatic Score nominees. Meant to be a number of five dancers "interpreting" the musical scores of the five Dramatic Score nominees, it simply was a group of five dancers dancing on stage while the music played from the Dramatic score nominees. The interpretations had absolutely nothing to do with the scores, and it again makes me wish they would simply play brief portions of the musical scores nominated (like they did in 1989) and stop these pointless dance numbers ... there would be a way to save time.
2) From 1958 -- Host Jerry Lewis having to fill 20 extra minutes of time after the awards had been presented. The awards were over, and NBC notified Jerry that they still had 20 minutes of air time to fill. So Lewis tried to go ad lib some comedy on stage, and NBC finally gave up on him, ending the broadcast and putting on a short film about pistols! This was still in the early years of the Oscars being presented on television, so I guess it can be forgiven, but again, a very embarrassing moment for the Academy.
And the number one worst, most embarrassing, and hard-to-believe-it-truly-happened Oscar moment of the century ...
1) From 1986 -- The opening production number featuring (get this for a combination) Telly Savalas, Pat Morita (yes, the guy who played Miyagi) and Dom DeLuise, singing "Fugue for Tinhorns." What a way for an Oscar telecast to begin. I think the embarrassment of that moment doesn't need any other explanation ... just picture that in your mind, or on second thought, maybe not.