What did you expect? You get a room full of exclusively anxious, dramatic, pedestal-placed personalities, and many of them are hungry, and you think that things aren’t going to get weird? Darling, this is the Oscars, and they are live. No ‘take twos’ for this spectacle, which means that no matter how much it’s planned, there’s a lot of room for… spontaneity. Sometimes they’re marvelous surprises. Sometimes they’re a little less than perfect.
For example, there are often painfully long transitions and speeches that are cut painfully short with premature music cues. This could be solved by scaling both issues back toward the center, but let’s go easy on them. They’ve only had 95 years of practice- They’ll get there. But transitions and jumping gun speech send-offs are only minor hiccups in the machinery. In those 95 years of Academy Awards history, some moments leave gossip hounds howling for years. These performances deserve categories of their very own. So, though all of the A-List awards have already been gifted and the paparazzi have all gone home, we’ve got some more categories for those die-hards that stuck it out.
To get this out of the way, we will simultaneously quickly mention, hop, skip, and jump over the slap because it’s been talked about from all sides ad nauseam. This last Sunday’s Oscars elicited at least four ‘slap’-related jokes from Jimmy Kimmel, including later in the impressively calm night when as he said, “At this point in the show, it kind of makes you miss the slapping a little bit, right?” Eh, I don’t know. The RRR dance spree was a much nicer jolt of mid-show caffeination than a hit to the face.
For stunts that didn’t further polarize an already divided nation, we had 74-year-old Jack Palance’s one-arm push-ups in 1992. This was genuinely impressive, and though he proved very strong, he did not hurt anyone. The following year’s ceremony hilariously opened with him pulling in the 20ft Oscar statue by his teeth with City Slicker co-star and Oscars host Billy Crystal atop.
An honorable mention should also go to Roberto Benigni’s leap onto the seats, and spastic string bean bunny hops down the aisle. And, of course, to everyone’s favorite ‘regular girl’ celebrity Jennifer Lawrence and her trip on the steps. When she got onto the stage, she charmingly told the audience, who’d gotten to their feet in applause, “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell. And that’s really embarrassing.” Though it wasn’t an accident, the one who wasn’t embarrassed by their Oscars stunt was Mr. Opel.
In 1974, in what can only be described as an incredibly 70s act, gay rights activist Robert Opel raced across the stage, flashing not only the peace sign but his entire naked body behind very British host David Niven (Casino Royale and The Pink Panther). You might be wondering if such a stunt earned him the overnight 15 minutes of fame that ‘Fiji Water Girl’ received after the 2019 Golden Globes, but in an era of pre-internet, it took him a little longer than a tweet.
It took til after the show. After zero charges were pressed, he was treated to the same press conference as the rest of the stars, where he told reporters, “You know, people shouldn’t be ashamed of being nude in public. Besides, it is a hell of a way to launch a career.” Stars from kingdom come have exercised this same logic. Though he was almost immediately fired from his job, according to The New Yorker, then went on to build a tight-knit community and ran “for President and settled into the gay leather scene, in the orbit of Robert Mapplethorpe and Harvey Milk.”
The CALL TO ACTION
Starting the category off strong, we’ve got vegan nominee Joaquin Phoenix, who in 2020 accepted his award by mentioning gender inequality, racism, queer rights, and indigenous rights before offering this statement about human treatment toward animals; “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf, and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.” He did cover a lot in the three minutes.
Calls to action are nearly too numerous to count but included in this tally are also; Frances McDormand’s call for increased diversity, Patricia Arquette’s plea to shrink the wage gap between genders, and Marlon Brando’s 1973 rejection of his award as a statement towards Native American rights. It was the one that started them all that night Sacheen Littlefeather stood in front of an audience of gowned and bejeweled Hollywood elites in her buckskin dress and turned down the statue offered by Roger Moore while John Wayne foamed at the mouth in the wings. Littlefeather told The Guardian, “During my presentation, he was coming towards me to forcibly take me off the stage, and he had to be restrained by six security men to prevent him from doing so.”
Similar sentiments were shared in a cheekier manner by following presenter Clint Eastwood, who said, “I don’t know if I should present this award on behalf of all the cowboys shot in all the John Ford westerns over the years.” … Gross.
The ‘WHOA’ WINS
The last most significant genre is undoubtedly the wins that make you say ‘whoa.’ Like when an 11-year-old child wins for best supporting actress. Not to be mistaken as a slight to the amount of work and talent that went into Anna Paquin’s performance, but to say she was an 11-year-old… child. The night they gave an Academy Award to a 6th grader, I wish they’d had participation trophies for everyone else. But Tatum O’Neal won at ten years old in ‘74, so I guess that makes Paquin an old hat. (Also, not a slight to Paquin’s adorable slouchy beanie). On the night of O’Neal’s win, she sported a fetching bellbottom tuxedo and gave a speech as short as her age, simply thanking her father and Paper Moon director Peter Bogdanovich.
Some ‘woah’s like those are sweet. Others still cause you to wince in pain every time you think about it. The 2017 envelope mix-up was one of the latter. There have been suspected mixups before where people thought the wrong name was read (they’re still sorry, Marisa Tomei). There have been times when the reader of the envelope had a mouth possession that made the name on the envelope, ‘Idina Menzel,’ transform in a letter-shuffling magic trick into ‘Adele Dazeem.’ To this mistake, John Travolta later groveled in a written statement; “I’ve been beating myself up all day. Then I thought…what would Idina Menzel say, she’d say, Let it go, let it go! it go, let it go!”
But some things are a little harder to let go of… That most uncomfortable mix-up took place on the heels of the #oscarssowhite of 2016 (and even in 2023, #oscarsstillprettydangwhite). Beloved Hollywood legends Warren Beaty and Faye Dunaway were on the stage when they read La La Land (starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) as the winner for best picture. A slew of cast and filmmakers took to the stage, and it wasn’t until the last of the three producers, Fred Berger, was halfway through his triumph speech when his fellow producer, Horowitz, had to take back the microphone. “You guys, I’m sorry, no. There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won best picture.”
This ‘whoa’ was much closer to a ‘yikes.’ From the start, you could tell that something was off. But this was live, and even celebrities with the most experience can be a little strange when in the limelight (insert any examples here). This was minor chaos, though. Audiences watched emotions in real time of some of the most famous people in the world pass from heartfelt gratitude for the award to the trickle of shock that rode in a wave of whispers as the giant La La Land clan learned what had happened. The memes of reactions lasted us through the year, from embarrassed horror to embarrassed laughter, as host Jimmy Kimmel tried to save the day, Beaty attempted to explain the mistake, and Moonlight replaced the group that was La La Land-ing themselves back in the audience.
The FEEL GOODS
Last but not least… There are beautiful moments underneath all the glitz, glamour, and awkward human moments. Things that happen behind the silver screen can affect the lives within them and sometimes even more so the ones in front of the stories, both actual and fiction, that they can tell. In 1972, the man of movie history, Charlie Chaplin, took the stage in a roar of standing ovation applause. This night had been Chaplin’s first night back in the U.S. after being marked as a communist and deported twenty years earlier. The cheers echoed throughout the theater for twelve full minutes.
Many actors have traveled just as far for the show. “My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp. And somehow, I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage.” Ke Huy Quan said this week when accepting his award. “They say stories like this only happen in the movies… Dreams are something you have to believe in. I almost gave up on mine. To all of you out there, please keep your dreams alive.” His eyeballs and so many others watching were damp with victorious tears. As were they when Michelle Yeoh, the first Asian performer to ever win best actress in the 95-year Oscar history, told the ladies, “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re past your prime.”
Watching the Oscars is often the exact reflection we get when watching movies, a time stamp on the world and those within them. As representation improves, so will the stories that the Oscars and their motion pictures tell, and that is the ‘feel good’ feeling we can hold as this industry keeps moving forward.