With only 3 weeks until the ceremony, this month I’ll be focusing on the Oscars. (Big change, I know.) Starting things off are my picks for the best and worst Oscar speeches of all time. You might be surprised to find absent many memorable and, might I say, obvious speeches: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Roberto Benigni, Sally Field, the fake-Indian lady for Marlon Brando. Instead, I wanted to highlight the speeches that might not immediately come to mind. Except for the worsts: those — all from the ‘90s — are pretty universally abhorred and mocked.
Best Oscar Speeches
Best: Luke Matheny, Best Live Action Short Film for God of Love (2011)
Someone who is authentic and genuine feels like a breath of fresh air during the Oscar’s serious — and often faux-sincere — telecast.
Best: Forest Whitaker, Best Actor for The Last King of Scotland (2006)
The rags to riches story is Oscar Speech 101. But Whitaker’s is special. It’s understated, humble and touching.
Best: Dustin Lance Black, Best Original Screenplay for Milk (2008)
Many remember Best Actor Sean Penn’s speech for Milk that night that began with “Thank you. You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns.” Yet the one that should be remembered was this one given earlier in the night by screenwriter Black. I think Harvey Milk would have been proud.
Best: Louise Fletcher, Best Actress for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
I dare you to watch this and not get teary.
Best: Hattie McDaniel, Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind (1939)
After McDaniel’s groundbreaking win, it would be another 24 years before another African-American actor won an Oscar (Sidney Poitier in 1963 for Lilies of the Field) and another 51 years before another African-American actress would win (Whoopi Goldberg in 1990 for Ghost). And this makes Halle Berry’s Best Actress speech in 2001 even more poignant.
Best: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting (1997)
I love when young Ben shushes young Matt.
Best: Laurence Olivier, Honorary Oscar (1978)
One of the greatest actors of all time gives a master class in eloquence and class.
Best: Heath Ledger, Best Supporting Actor for The Dark Knight (2008)
Though several Oscars have been awarded posthumously, only two have been awarded to actors: Peter Finch in 1976 for Network and Heath Ledger. When Ledger’s family accepted on his behalf, it isn’t just what they say. It’s our memory of the tragic loss of this great actor that makes it moving and profoundly sad.
Best: Joan Crawford accepting for Anne Bancroft, Best Actress for The Miracle Worker (1963)
The speech itself is nothing special; it’s the backstory that is simply delectable. It was well known that Crawford and her What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? co-star Bette Davis hated each other. When Davis earned a nomination and Crawford did not, Crawford graciously contacted the other nominees and offered her assistance if they were unable to attend the ceremony. Therefore, when Bancroft beat Davis for Best Actress in 1963, it was Crawford on stage accepting the award. While Davis sat in the audience. Amazing.
Best: Julie Andrews, Best Actress for Mary Poppins (1964)
I don’t think it’s possible to love her even more.
Best: Joe Pesci, Best Supporting Actor for Good Fellas (1990)
Less is more.
Best: Emma Thompson, Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility (1995)
My favorite line: “Before I came, I went to visit Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral, to pay my respects, you know, and to tell her about the grosses… I do hope she knows how big she is in Uruguay.”
Worst Oscar Speeches
Worst: Angelina Jolie, Best Supporting Actress for Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Odd. Creepy. Goth.
Worst: James Cameron, Best Director for Titanic (1997)
From someone else, “I’m king of the world!” could seem charming. From Cameron, it came across as utterly egotistical.
Worst: Gwyneth Paltrow, Best Actress for Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Get. It. Together.