The most memorable Oscar speeches
by Jodi Berman
I’ve had an obsession with the Oscars for most of my life, so my friends are all more than a bit surprised when I announce, “I don’t go to Oscar parties.” I’m also very choosy about whom gets invited to my house to watch the Oscars with me. Why so anti-social?
I like the speeches.
I watch the speeches, I cry with the winners, I’m moved by their joy and surprise. And I want to hear what people have to say at a moment when they have achieved a dream that may, at one time in their lives, have seemed beyond their reach. Success in Hollywood is such an incredible gamble as it is, so the Oscar is like icing on the cake.
I did a lot of thinking about Oscar speeches and I combed the internet for the favorite and most talked about ones of all time. I admit it, the Internet gets it right. We all remember Jack Palance doing his crazy one-armed push ups, Sally Field articulating “you like me, you really like me,” Tom Hanks giving a solemn tribute to the victims of the AIDS epidemic (“The streets of heaven are too crowded”), and even Adrien Brody, who grabbed Halle Berry and kissed her like a starving man in a burrito factory.
So here are a few additions to those that have never appeared on a list, or appear very rarely, and what they mean to me.
Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost, Best Supporting Actress
The thing that captured me about this speech so long ago is that first, Whoopi is genuinely excited. I don’t care what category people win, I dislike those dry speeches where you can’t even tell that the person is happy. But when she talks about how people in the room inspired her; how growing up a child in the projects, these are the people she wanted to be – it really got me. Others who achieved this crazy enthusiasm include Cuba Gooding Jr., Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, and certainly Roberto Benigni. But Whoopi’s was my favorite of the excited bunch because of the context she gives from her childhood.
Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Once, Best Song
First, I really liked how passionate and humble the speeches are here, and how the gratitude is pouring out of Glen. His plea to “make art” is clearly his inner monologue spilling out of him at a pinnacle moment. But what made this truly memorable for me was Jon Stewart allowing Markéta Irglová to come back out after the commercial break and have her moment. And it was lovely and inspiring, “Fair play to those who dream.” Indeed. And fair play to Stewart for prioritizing people over time.
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave, Best Supporting Actress
I dearly hope that Lupita’s speech is added to the list of all time greatest speeches. She is sincere, her language is lovely and precise, and she teaches a lesson in grace and class. Her impassioned message to people around the world moves beyond the world of entertainment and rings true for anyone, not just aspiring entertainment professionals, “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” Others who have achieved this moment include Mo’Nique, Meryl Streep, and Robin Williams.
One final note about Oscar speeches. You know who gets a bad rap? The orchestra conductor. And it is almost always funny when a winner comes on stage and makes it clear that he (no women have done it to date) can try to play the person off, but he or she isn’t leaving until the speech is done (Julia Roberts: “I may never be up here again.”).
I agree with the winners, but I’d also like to make a suggestion to the nominees – Prepare. It’s not cocky to jot down notes, it’s practical – there are five people in the world who may take home the statue and you’re one of them, so if you’re worried about ego, get over it.
You know you’re going to be overwhelmed (Anna Paquin didn’t start her speech for at least 10-15 seconds after she got to the podium because she was so shocked), you’re likely to be emotional, and you’ll probably forget your husband, wife, partner, mom, dad, Harvey Weinstein. (Do not forget Harvey Weinstein.) We will still laugh with you, cry with you, and be happy for you when you get all your thoughts out. This goes double for you multiple winners of a single Oscar. I’m always upset with the one guy who takes up 40 seconds and leaves 5 seconds for the other three producers. Get it together, people.
I’m excited to see who may join my list of favorites this year, and if anyone will make my top speeches of all time. One thing is certain – when the first winner is announced, I’ll cry a little for them. It’s only polite.
What are your most treasured Oscar speeches of all time?
To read more of “And The Oscar Goes To…” stories, please click below:
How my Oscar obsession began
5 lovable Oscar losers
Oscar’s hidden gems
War and the Oscars: A love story
The Oscars are coming! The Oscars are coming!