Friday, February 22, 2013

Oscar Week: Top 20 Oscar Speeches

Want to know why I love the Oscars? Well, there are a few reasons, but certainly the most valuable is watching someone achieve their dreams right before your very eyes. Occasionally, someone involved in the film business wins an Oscar and instead of incoherently listing names or reading a speech they’ve written out of annoying presumption, they dig deep and a take few minutes to unveil who they really are. There’s something I find very moving in that experience. I hope you enjoy my picks and forgive the absence of names like Field, Hanks, Palance, Moore and Gooding, Jr. Their speeches gained notoriety, but the ones below drew on sensitivity.

Honorable Mentions of Honorable Winners
Here are my three favorite speeches given by recipients of Oscar’s Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award.

Alfred Hitchcock (1968)
After a very warm introduction, Hitchcock, who never won a Best Director Oscar, slowly takes the stage, approaches the mic warmly, and delivers a speech only Hitch himself could provide.

Charlie Chaplin (1972)
With a 12 minute standing ovation (I love the guy who yells “Bravo!” over and over), and Chaplin’s overwhelmed reaction, this is, perhaps, the finest moment in Oscar history. And how about the first sentence of his speech? God, it’s just miraculous.

Kirk Douglas (1996)
“I see my four sons… they are proud, of the old man.” Yes, sir, they certainly are.

20. Russell Crowe
Best Actor, Gladiator (2000)
No, I’m not a fan of Gladiator or Russell Crowe’s performance in it. But that certainly doesn’t mean he didn’t give an overjoyed, wondrously heartfelt speech. Props to the control room director for that pan shot up from the statue. Well timed.

19. Gene Hackman
Best Supporting Actor, Unforgiven (1992)
There’s something special about a Hollywood tough guy who gracefully takes the stage, laughs in adulation of his win, then chokes up when dedicating his award to the uncle he’s recently lost. Brief, but extremely moving.

18. Kim Basinger
Best Supporting Actress, L.A. Confidential (1997)
Gloria Stuart was the presumed winner for her efforts in Titanic this year, so most everyone (including Cuba Gooding, Jr. who looks pleasantly surprised when he opens the envelope) was stunned by Basinger’s win. I love when Basinger raises her hands in victory, you can just tell she had no idea this was coming.

17. Mira Sorvino
Best Supporting Actress, Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Sorvino’s appreciative speech is made exceptional when she tearfully thanks her father, Paul, for teaching her how to act. The big man breaks down, and the place applauds in exaltation.

16. Markéta Irglová
Best Song, Once (2006)
The fact that Irglová was even able to give her speech really speaks highly of everyone behind the scenes of this ceremony. Cut off during her initial speech, the telecast cut to commercial and upon returning, Jon Stewart announced he was going to bring Irglová back out so she could properly enjoy her moment. Well played, Jon. Oh, and damn fine speech, Markéta.

15. Frances McDormand
Best Actress, Fargo (1996)
I’m not sure if there has ever been a more articulate Oscar speech than McDormand’s here. Elegant, composed, and insanely well versed; McDormand wins the crowd over before thanking three final people in the best, most repetitive way possible.

14. Dustin Hoffman
Best Actor, Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
In the past, Dustin Hoffman was as critical about the Academy as George C. Scott, Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda – you name it. So when he carefully walked on stage to collect his prize, everyone wait in bated breath as to what the notoriously outspoken thespian was going to say. The tension was palpable, and he broke it perfectly.

13. Charlize Theron
Best Actress, Monster (2003)
Everyone knew Charlize Theron was going to win her first Oscar for portraying serial killer Aileen Wuornos. And the beginning of her speech is evidence of that: prepared, listing names, and so on. But the fact that she manages to thank her mother (her mother who famously killed Theron’s father in self defense) before breaking down, makes everything else worth it.

12. Branko Lustig
Best Picture, Schindler’s List (1993)
Best Picture Oscar speeches suck. Without fail. The viewers are tired, the in-house crowd is restless, and, most of the time, the winner is a forgone conclusion, so shock is completely removed from the situation. Now, if there was ever a lock for Best Picture, Schindler’s List was certainly it. But when producer Branko Lustig quietly stepped to the mic, he began by listing his number from when he was in Auschwitz, and ended with the crowd applauding over him, standing as they did it. I’m not sure that’s ever happened during a Best Picture speech before.

11. Joe Pesci
Best Supporting Actor, Goodfellas (1990)
The notoriously shy Pesci was vocal about his fear of winning the Oscar, simply because he did not want to have to give a speech. Thankfully, he was persuaded to show up to the ceremony, resulting in one of the most amusing Oscar speeches of all time. I don’t want to ruin it for people who haven’t seen it before. Just… watch this:

10. Geoffrey Fletcher
Best Adapted Screenplay, Precious (2009)
Part of my admiration for Oscar speeches is because of the surprise. Up in the Air was the heavy favorite this year for Adapted Screenplay, so when Geoffrey Fletcher’s name was called, he was as surprised as the rest of us. And this is what the Oscars should be all about (or at least about some of the time): awarding the worthy underdog. It’s a great moment, capped with an overwhelmed, moving, and very unexpected speech.

9. Tom Hanks
Best Actor, Forrest Gump (1994)
I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t going to list Tom Hanks’ Oscar speech, but I was referring to the infamous speech he gave following his Philadelphia win. And sure, while that may be a far more iconic moment, I frankly like the sentiment of his Forrest Gump speech better. Articulate, humble, and ever the loving husband, it’s exactly how we like to picture Tom Hanks.

8. Robin Williams
Best Supporting Actor, Good Will Hunting (1997)
Williams’ Oscar speech is some of the finest stand up he’s ever done. He’s funny, genuinely thankfully, and, for the briefest of moments, serious in the most heartfelt way. I can watch this speech endlessly. And that Billy Crystal hug at the end? Just perfect.

7. Steven Soderbergh
Best Director, Traffic (2000)
I’m hard pressed to think of a more thankful, self-effacing Oscar speech than Soderbergh’s win for Traffic. Just watch this, people. This is what it means to be an artist.

6. Louise Fletcher
Best Actress, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
After thanking those who gave her a shot, Fletcher’s speech seemed like it was going to end on an upbeat, if not somewhat forgettable note. And then she does it. She apologizes to those watching, takes a step back, and signs her most sincere thank you to her two deaf parents. The camera slowly zooms out, and Fletcher barely holds it together before ending her speech. Tell me that doesn’t bring tears to your eyes.

5. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon
Best Original Screenplay, Good Will Hunting (1997)
It all starts with Jack Lemmon’s ecstatic delivery. He reads (or rather, screams) the names of the winners, and hoots and howls as the telecast cuts to the two stunned screenwriters. They take the stage, embrace the grumpy old men, and feverishly try to cram in as many names as they can in their allotted stage time. They’re excited beyond words, and loving every second of it. Damon was 27 at the time. Affleck was 25. I mean, can you imagine.

4. Marion Cotillard
Best Actress, La vie en Rose (2007)
Best Actress 2007 was a lock. Julie Christie was going to win her second Oscar for playing a woman faded with Alzheimer’s in Away From Her. So when Forest Whitaker called Cotillard’s name, the French starlet (who was all but unknown to mainstream American audiences at the time) nearly collapsed in shock, as the other nominees (and everyone else in the theater) exploded into applause. Cotillard, who admittedly spoke very little English at the time, managed to briefly subside her astonishment by delivering one of the best send-off lines of any Oscar speech ever. I just love this moment.

3. Jorge Drexler
Best Song, The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
This one deserves a little context. Because the Academy is a whore for ratings, they did not let relatively unknown Oscar nominee Jorge Drexler sing his nominated song, “Al Otro Lado Del Río,” during the musical performance section of the evening. Instead, Drexler’s personal friend, Antonio Banderas, performed the number, and that was that. So what did Drexler do when he won? He sang his damn song and let his voice be heard in the best possible way. A perfectly subtle FU to the people who tried to rob him of his moment.

(Note: the official Oscar YouTube channel has never posted Drexler’s speech. But the Spanish commentary from the viewers in the clip below actually makes the moment better.)

2. Gerda Weissmann Klein
Best Short Film – Live Action, One Survivor Remembers (1995)
The Best Short Film categories are treated by many as an excuse to use the bathroom, and nothing more. Fair enough, I suppose. But I think we forget that there are actual people living their dreams on the Oscar stage at that moment. None more so than Gerda Weissmann Klein, who was the subject of the short Holocaust remembrance film, One Survivor Remembers. As the speech begins, director Kary Antholis nervously reads his speech, before Klein steps to the mic and the music begins to cut her off.

Now pay attention here. The conductor who is in charge of cutting off speeches is usually the one who gets all of the shit, but it really isn’t his fault. The conductor is the tool, the director of the telecast sitting high in a control room is the one who tells the conductor to start the music. So, somewhere, a director in a boxed-off control room had the fortitude to have the conductor stop the music, and let Klein say what she had to say. The result is the most moving speech I have ever witnessed from an Oscar telecast. I defy you to not be moved.

1. Adrien Brody
Best Actor, The Pianist (2002)
This wasn’t even close. As soon as I got the idea to draft this list, Brody’s name went right at the top, no hesitation. The Best Actor race was between two people in 2002: Daniel Day-Lewis for his ferocious turn in Gangs of New York, and Jack Nicholson for his restrained brilliance in About Schmidt. If Nicholson won, he would’ve been the first actor to win three Best Actor trophies (which, coincidentally, Day-Lewis is about to do come Sunday). Had Day-Lewis nabbed it, it would’ve been the ultimate consolation prize for the role that drove him out of retirement.

So when Halle Berry gleefully read Adrien Brody’s name, everyone in the house lost it, namely Brody himself, who didn’t seem to believe the moment was real for a good seven seconds. He took to the stage, lent his appreciation to the standing crowd, rushed in for THAT kiss, and simply killed it on stage.

Now, it’s important to note that this broadcast aired on March 23, 2003, three days after George W. Bush declared war on Iraq. It was a tough time for America to say the least. Everyone was on edge, and people like Michael Moore (who earlier had denounced the President while accepting his Oscar for Best Documentary) were adding fuel to the fire that no one in the Kodak Theater wanted to feel. I remember watching Brody give his speech, and right around the time he began talking about war, I said aloud, “Oh, no, please don’t mess this up.” I should’ve had more faith in him, because he certainly did in us.

More Oscar Posts from And So it Begins...


  1. Adrien Brody's speech was my favorite. He just stole the show from everyone. One of my favorite moments in the Oscars was when Three-Six Mafia won and they were like "Oohhh.... oh, wrong way! Oh!!!!" Jon Stewart's commentary after they won was just hilarious. Another speech I loved was when they gave a lifetime achievement award to Robert Altman where he revealed about a recent transplant he had some years ago. What was more shocking was that he died later that year.

    1. Love that Brody is your top pick. A perfect moment in Oscar history.

      The Three 6 Mafia win was fucking priceless. I still cannot believe the Academy gave it to them. And I love how most of their speech was bleeped out. Hilarious.

      Altman's speech was very tender as well. Made you think he had a lot more years in him. Damn shame.

  2. Very nice work assembling these videos!
    My all-time favorite moment was when they awarded Charlie Chaplin with a lifetime achievement Oscar. It was such a sweet and moving moment, a long-overdue prize for such a legend who still brought a lot of good humor at such at advanced age.
    Ps. I had no idea about Joe Pesci being shy. He certainly doesn't show it in his roles, not at all. I'm happy that he was awarded for such an awesome job in Goodfellas.

    1. Thanks! Chaplin, man... whatta moment in history right there. Not just Oscar history, but history in general.

      Pesci is intensely shy, which is one of the reasons he's kind of fallen out the business. HATES doing press.

  3. Cool idea! Great to see the speeches by Crowe, Lustig, Pesci, and Hanks in the top 20. And your top 5 is just wonderful. Nicely done man.

    1. Thanks dude! Really glad you dig the picks - wasn't sure if people remembered Drexler and Klein's speeches, so I am happy to draw some attention to them.

  4. When I saw the title for this post I said to myself, "Pesci's speech has got to be on that list and if it's not, I'm going to mention it."

    I'll be honest, if asked to come up with great Oscar speeches I would have mostly drawn a blank, but when you mentioned these 20 damned if I didn't remember watching just about every one of them.

    1. Hell yeah man, can't forget old Pesci. That moment speaks perfectly to who he is as a person.

      It's kind of fun to watch these and think back to the first time you saw them. I love those memories.

  5. Love this. I could watch Oscar speeches all day. They make me happy. My favorite speeches, I guess, tend to be when my personal favorites - not just for that particular performance or movie of that particular year but my favorites over the long haul - win. I mean, Kate Winslet's speech wasn't necessarily the best but it will always, always be my favorite.

    Or Charlie Kaufman winning and ending by saying "I want to get off the stage." That's a social awkwardness I can respect.

    1. Oh me too man. I love watching them in moments of needed inspiration.

      I know what you mean about personal favorites. Can't argue with those. Loved that end to Kaufman's speech. Hilarious.

  6. Ahh, what an epic list. When I saw the title of your post on my dash I immediately thought "he better not forget Hitchcock's speech". And it was precisely the first one -- you never miss a thing.

    Gosh, I want to comment on all of them! Okay: "Each of you who know the joy of freedom are winners", I'm glad so you chose this one, because I had never seen it; Chaplin was beyond this world; "It's my privilege, thank you" -- I love that guy so much haha; Robin Williams is the happiest man alive; and I love how everyone was so genuinely happy for Adrien Brody. The rest was tears, tears, wonderful tears in my eyes.

    1. Thanks :)

      No way could I forget old Hitch. That's such a Hitch thing to do. Love it.

      Klein's speech really is a triumph, isn't it? So moving. So glad you like the picks! Wonderful tears In.Deed.

  7. I'm not sure which one I'd replace, but no Benigni? An artist's exultant passion spilling out as poetry. Absolutely unforgettable.

    (Glad Hitchcock was first on the page. When you're that damn good, you don't more than two words.)

    1. Benigni's (like Palance, Cuba Gooding, Field, etc) is more iconic then, I dunno, personally memorable to me, if that makes sense. A great Oscar moment, no doubt, but not one of my faves.

      Hitch basically said all there was to say. So badass.

  8. YESSSSSSS! Oh man. Brody in that speech. My favourite part is when he makes the music stop playing. What badassery.

    I'm going to watch all these videos now.

    1. Told you Brody was my fave :) THAT is how you give a goddamn speech.

      Hope you liked watching the vids!

  9. Love your no 1 choice. Adrien Brody's breath spray moment the following year as a presenter was memorable as well :)

    Where is Jack Palance? :) A bunch of these I still need to see, so thanks for this

    1. Brody is the maannn. Such a good moment.

      I mentioned in the intro that I find Palance, Cuba Gooding, and Sally Field's speeches memorable for reasons other than actually giving a great speech. They are iconic moments in Oscar, but not my favorites. If ya dig.

  10. Ahh..Incredible Collection Alex. These really are some special moments. But when I saw the Post Title, I was hoping for one inclusion - Chaplin. Man, that is such an incredible moment!! People just would not stop. I know I wouldn't, I certainly wouldn't and that guy deserves every second of it.

    1. Thanks buddy! Chaplin... dude's Oscar moment deserves a whole post, as far as I'm concerned. Incredible stuff.

  11. Great choices! I've never seen that clip of Pesci accepting Oscar before - that was HILARIOUS!

    Brody's speech was amazing. For some reason it always makes me laugh how they kept showing Nicholson and Cage standing next to each other, nodding in approval. Nicholson is actually presenting tomorrow, I wonder what's going to happen :)

    Charlize and Marion winning are some of the sweetest moments - Theron tearing up always makes me cry. I loved how Adrien Brody freshened his breath and when she got on stage she nodded in approval for him to kiss her.

    Some of my favorites are usually the shocking wins like with Benigni and Dujardin, that was such an explosion of joy. The fact that the shocked winners make for the most happy moments of ceremonies is why I hate locks.

    1. I love the cutaway shots to Jack and Nic during Brody's speech. They both look so genuinely appreciative.

      Charlize's speech is really intense. Look closely and Will Smith is pretty much sobbing in the background. Awwwww.

      I hate locks as well, but when you say shocking wins... Benigni and Dujardin and were both definitely locks. I agree that their reactions were shocking, but they had those wins in the bag. (But in terms of Benigni, I'm talking about his on-the-chair win for Foreign Language. Everyone knew he was gonna win that. He seemed far more genuinely shocked when he won Actor.)

    2. You know after the Globes at all the accolades for Descendants and Clooney I was kinda unsure whether it will be him or Jean so I was still quite surprised :)

    3. Ah I gotcha. I did watch Jean's speech the other day. Whatta nut, but in the best possible way.

  12. What a completely magnificent post! All exceptional choices in your list! I forget how incredibly candid, youthful, shocked and hilarious Affleck and Damon were! AND ONLY 25 AND 27!?? I would probably deliver a comparably enthusiastic speech if I were in their shoes =)

    1. Thanks Courtney! I love the enthusiasm in Affleck and Damon's speech. They're just so out of it and ecstatic. That's how it should be.

  13. I love that your list contains a lot of people displaying humility. It's the biggest award night of the year for films and all of them are at awe by the history that precedes them. That said, my personal favorite relies on some exuberance and a smart camera operator.

    Right at 21, when the camera pulls back, is the best of a small list of great acceptance moments. He could get lost in the crowd if he fell but Benigni stands proud and supported. There's a lot of love in your choices, which is why I love Benigni's as well.

    1. I'm definitely more drawn to the winners who are shocked, thankful, and/or express great humility. And you're right, that wide master shot of Benigni really puts the moment into perspective. Very well done by whoever directed that show.

  14. Great post, Alex. The top two are interchangeable as far as I'm concerned because Adrien's is so heartfelt and Gerda's is so eloquent and heartbreaking...both so moving. I've watched many of these speeches with you on Oscar night over the years and you know how much I love to see them again--I often made you replay them for me the next day. I see by the previous posts that I'm not alone in enjoying them over and over again. Thanks and enjoy this year's collection of acceptance speeches!

    1. Thanks Sue! Remember how we all lost it when Brody won? Whatta special moment that was. And then there was Three 6 Mafia, when none of us could stop laughing. Those guys were just hilarious.

      Hope you enjoy the show tonight, my friend!

  15. Marion, Marion, Marion. Actual tears.

  16. Awesome work putting this together, man! So many great speeches in here, including several I haven't seen. That Chaplin clip is a great moment.

    Also wanted to say that I really enjoyed your entire Oscar Week. I found so many new films to add to my Netflix queue because of it. Can't wait to dig in.

    1. Thanks Eric! Chaplin is a man of pure class. A real gentleman. I just love how he can't seem to catch his breath. So stunned.

      Glad you enjoyed the posts last week, always happy to help add to your queue, my friend!

  17. Absolutely bloody fantastic post Alex, one of the best I've come across anywhere in months. These clips have kept me entertained the past hour (actually turned off the film I was about to watch to view them all) and I gotta give thanks for that. Too much brilliance here to pick favourites, but Klein's speech is pure humanity expressed in the most emotionally profound manner, perhaps one of the finest speeches of all time, let alone the Oscars. Fantastic list Alex, you compiled the shit out of this one.

    1. Holy shit man, this comment made my fuckin' day. Damn.

      I'm really glad you enjoyed watching the speeches, it really is a great way to spend an hour or so. Also love your comments about Klein's speech - so emotionally profound, indeed.

      And thanks for your comments about the post in general. They meant a lot!

  18. What a great post! I enjoyed this so much, and good work finding all those clips. This is so much more interesting than all the main who wore what coverage going on!
    From Filmspot :)

    1. Thanks so much! A good Oscar speech really can be a great, great thing. I could care less what people wore, you know? Let's just cut to the heart of the thing.

  19. Awesome post. Robbin is my fav from the list above, but my heart goes for Julia Roberts.

    1. Thanks! Robin's speech is so perfect, isn't it? Brief, heartfelt, funny. Very effective.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and reading!

  20. Mira Sorvino's speech makes me cry for two reasons: The shot of Paul crying after she thanks him and the fact that her career unfortunately peaked and ended on that night. It's sad and weird how she fell off the radar considering how talented she is and her connections. What is she up to these days?

    1. Paul's face kills me as well. To your second point... sadly, that happens a lot, especially with female Oscar winners. Though I do think Mira had some solid roles post-Mighty Aphrodite. Romy and Michele, Summer of Sam, The Grey Zone, Reservation Road... nothing truly great, but pretty decent stuff.