The Oscars are the most eagerly-awaited award shows in Hollywood. No matter how much criticism the Academy faces in alleged sexism, racism or homophobia, at the end of the day, the winners are hailed as legends. After one wins an Oscar, their speeches are recorded for time immemorial and they are remembered for the things that they say. These 90-second moments of acceptance usually comprise ramblings of one’s gratitude towards their family, crew, agents and more. They often use their time and voice to emphasise social issues such as the pay gap, climate change, gender issues and more. Some simply bask in their own glory of achievement while others often burst into tears.
The walk up to the dais is also of importance. While some saunter confidently, others often trip and fall causing quite a spectacle and later proving themselves to be a great sport by joking about it. Yes, Jennifer Lawrence, we love you. However, there are some speeches that are so bizarre that they leave audience members aghast with shock as well as awe. While some are too short to be a speech others contain politically incorrect elements that often become the subject of ridicule. Some do not even turn up to receive their Oscars.
With the 93rd Academy Awards fast approaching, we at Far Out thought it would be a good time to compile some of the wildest speeches in the history of Academy Awards. Marlon Brando was notably absent, yet his silence did all the talking and has thus found its place in this wild list.
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The 10 wildest speeches in Oscars history:
10. Joe Pesci, Best Supporting Actor, Goodfellas, 1991
Joe Pesci probably sought inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock’s short and sweet speech. However, he did not manage to bring out the humour and ended on a rather awkward note. As he inhaled in, the audience expected a big speech. To their dismay, Pesci simply said, “It was my privilege, thank you”, leaving the audience dumbfounded and a little slow in their applause. Polar opposite from his character in Goodfellas who was an absolute talking delight, Pesci’s speech was to the point and short.
Pesci’s speech is embarrassing, yes, but at the same time, shows his absolute gratitude to the Academy for receiving the Award. When people are shocked, they gloat in various ways. He is really proud of his work and, inexplicably, does not know how to express that in words. In a crisp speech, he does not ramble unnecessarily; instead, delivers an honest and wholesome expression.
9. Donald Ogden Stewart, Best Screenplay, The Philadelphia Story, 1941
People spend a long time thanking the ones who have contributed in their own ways to their success. They are humble and moving, often even expressing gratitude towards their kindergarten teacher. However, there are some recipients whose swagger has led to various mic-dropping moments. The ultimate “I-don’t-care-I-am-awesome” moment was when Donald Ogden Stweart accepted the Oscar for his screenplay for The Philadelphia Story and left the audience members bereft of words.
After talking about how he envied the boys who got technical awards for their privilege of not having “to get nervously drunken before”, he got straight to the point. He did not circumlocute nor did he waste time talking about who influenced him to be what he was today. He simply echoed what many winners have probably thought but never had the courage to say. “There has been so much niceness here tonight that I’m happy to say that I am entirely and solely responsible for the success of The Philadelphia Story.” Way to go, Stewart!
8. Jack Palance, Best Supporting Actor, City Slickers, 1991
Inspiring Oscar speeches are in fashion but so are comedic ones. When Jack Palance was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Award for City Slickers, he used his time as his own stand-up comedy routine. After being handed out the award by Whoopi Goldberg, he bragged about how he “crap(s) bigger than” Billy Crystal. His speech did contain certain elements of poignance in his speech when he began talking about an ageing actor’s waning career. He recounted his experiences with the producers after reaching “a certain age plateau” when they would find casting Palance risky as he no longer bore the oomph factor. To emphasise his vigour, he left the podium to do three one-arm push-ups and came back to talk about it.
Leaving the audience in splits with his antics, Palance spoke about a producer who instilled in him the confidence of being a great actor of his stature. “Wow. You know, a long time ago in 1949, first picture, 1949, the first film, I’d been shooting about two weeks and the producer came to me and he said, ‘Jack’ – my name at that time was Vladimir, but he called me Jack. He says, ‘Jack, you’re going to win the Academy Award’. Can you believe it? Forty-two years later he was right. How the son of a bitch knew?! Thank you.”
7. Sally Field, Best Actress, Places in the Heart, 1984
Ridiculed widely for her speech and taken as one of the most outrageous moments in the history of the Academy, Sally Field’s second Oscar after her 1980 win was indeed a memorable one. Presented the award by Robert Duvall, she was ecstatic and overwhelmed. Sauntering up to the stage in her sleek black gown, she expressed her exuberance by stating: “But I want to say thank you to you. I haven’t had an orthodox career and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it. And I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me! Thank you.”
Field was flustered. The speech was audacious. She praised herself for winning the well-deserved award. Yet it came out all wrong. The audience mistook it to be an expression of self-appreciation bordering on the egotistical. She became the butt of all ridicule; The Mask, as well as Madonna, mocked her. Her speech is often taken as a classic example of how Hollywood stars are caught in their own little cocoon of narcissism. If we go back to her speech, however, one can understand that Field was revelling in the joy that had been thrust upon her “right now” and knew that she would be liked only for some time. Poignant and profound, the speech did have a lot of meaning. Being the badass that she is, when asked about the reaction to this speech, she simply said to New York Times, “I was winning my second Oscar so I’m allowed to say anything I fucking want”.
6. Matthew McConaughey, Best Actor, Dallas Buyers Club, 2014
“There are three things that I need each day. One, I need something to look up to, another to look forward to, and another is someone to chase.” When McConaughey said this, the audience was pretty moved because it was the beginning of his McConaissance. After several flops, he had taken a break to reevaluate his life and came back with a bang to deliver a stunning performance in Dallas Buyers Club. While McConaughey had later spoken about how he did not have a speech ready “because I thought that would be like a coup de grace in the wrong way, but I knew who I was thankful for”. McConaughey’s speech was wonderful yet ridiculous, humbling yet narcissistic and egotistical, to say the least. He hailed himself as a hero and relayed immortality to his speech by ending with a signature “alright, alright, alright”.
In his legendary speech, McConaughey rushed through his thank-yous, expressing gratitude towards his family for their unconditional support before arriving at the highlight of his speech. “And to my hero. That’s who I chase. When I was 15 years old I had a very important person in my life come and ask me ‘Who’s your hero?’ I said, ‘I thought about it and it’s me in ten years. So I turned 25 ten years later and that same person comes to me and goes, ‘Are you a hero?’ I said, ‘Not even close!’ She said why and I said, ‘My hero is me at 35.’ You see, every day, and every week, and every month, and every year of my life, my hero is always ten years away. I’m never going to be my hero. I’m not going to obtain that and that’s fine with me because it keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing. So to any of us, whatever those things are and whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to and whoever it is we’re chasing, to that I say Amen. To that, I say alright, alright, alright. And just keep living, huh? Thank you.”
5. Angelina Jolie, Best Supporting Actress, Girl, Interrupted, 2000
With her messy fringe bangs and an insolent smirk plastered on her face, Angelina Jolie’s role as the rebellious Lisa whose cheek and rather boisterous yet moving on-screen presence won her the first and only Oscar. However, her acceptance speech and the events leading up to it are highly infamous as she spent her time indulging in incestuous activities like locking lips with her brother, James Haven. After joking about herself fainting on-stage and mumbling a few awkward and feeble thank-yous, this raven-haired actress expressed her unbridled love for her family, especially her own sibling.
“I’m, I’m in shock and I’m so in love with my brother right now. He just held me and said he loved me and I know he’s so happy for me. And thank you for that. And thank you to Columbia. Winona, you’re amazing and thank you for supporting all of us through this. And all the girls in this film are amazing, and Whoopi, everybody, and my family for loving me. Janeen Schreyer and your sister Michelle — Michelle, we love you. Geyer Kosinski. My mom, who is the most brave, beautiful woman I’ve ever known. And my dad, you’re a great actor but you’re a better father. And Jamie, this is, you’re just, I have nothing without you. You are the strongest, most amazing man I’ve ever known and I love you. And thank you so much.”
It is hard to imagine present-day Jolie going up to the stage and praising her family. It is hard to get her to say much nowadays as she is the epitome of grace and elegance. Jolie in the 2000s did not care and was messy and freaky, stirring up rumours about cohabiting an incestuous family.
4. Roberto Benigni, Best Actor, Life is Beautiful, 1999
The 71st Academy Awards was a dream-like sequence for Robert Benigni. When Sophia Loren announced the winner for Best Foreign Language Fil, she yelled “Roberto” and made Benigni walk towards the dais. He thought he was done for the day but he soon won the Best Actor Award which was a groundbreaking moment for him as he was the first actor in a foreign-language film to win a Best Actor award after Loren in 1962. Ecstatic and proud, he showed childlike glee as he started to make his way towards the dais. In his pure, unadulterated joy, he first started waking backwards before going to accept his prize. It was an absolutely euphoric moment for him.
He expressed his “terrible mistake” of using up “all my English” then he went on to say something legendary which left an indelible imprint in the history of the Academy. Enraptured by this momentous win, he said: “I don’t know! I am not able to express all my gratitude because now, my body is in tumult because it is a colossal moment of joy so everything is really in a way that I cannot express. I would like to be Jupiter! And kidnap everybody and lie down in the firmament making love to everybody, because I don’t know how to express. It’s a question of love. You are really — this is a mountain of snow, so delicate, the suavity and the kindness, it is something I cannot forget, from the bottom of my heart.” It was sincere, moving and beautiful. The verbose Italian thanked his motherland as he owed “to them all if I did something good” before showing us how much cinema meant to him.
3. Marlon Brando, Best Actor, The Godfather, 1972
Marlon Brando is known for his distinguished acting and incredible characterisations which have won him many nominations. However, when his name was called out after he won the Best Actor award for his legendary portrayal of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Brando was missing in action. Sacheen Littlefeather went up to the stage to convey his message, refusing to accept the Oscar from presenters Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann. Brando was the second actor to refuse an Oscar and did so in style. Not only was he absent from the ceremony but also expressed his distaste for it by talking about how the mistreatment of Native Americans in Hollywood was the primary reason behind him refusing to accept the Oscar in his letter as read out by Littlefeather to the press. “The motion picture community has been as responsible as any for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing his as savage, hostile and evil.”
While the room was shocked to know what Littlefeather had to say, it was definitely one of the groundbreaking moments in the Academy’s history as Brando’s refusal was politically motivated to the cause of the Natives. “I’m Apache and I am president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you in a very long speech, which I cannot share with you presently because of time but I will be glad to share with the press afterwards, that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award”, said Littlefeather. She further went on to enlighten the audience regarding the reasons by talking about “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry – excuse me – and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”
2. Adrien Brody, Best Actor, The Pianist, 2003
Adrien Brody was an absolute delight in Roman Polanski’s beautiful and harrowing The Pianist, a performance that helped him bring home his very first Oscar. Brody was probably overwhelmed with joy and extremely nervous which is why his acceptance speech, as well as his actions upon reaching the stage, were shocking, to say the least. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the accusations that have been meted out against Polanski, his actions seem even more inappropriate and unforgettable in the history of Academy Awards.
Brody was shocked when he learned that he was the chosen one. Although his speech was profound, he began by planting an unprecedented kiss on presenter Halle Berry which was a testament to his spontaneous overflow of emotions but was, nevertheless, non-consensual. Berry’s distaste and shock were evident; by thanking Polanski in his speech, he immortalised the abuser’s contribution and reinforced the Academy’s problematic tendency to overlook predatory behaviour.
Brody’s speech was problematic yet beautiful. Referencing the American invasion of Iraq that had begun that week, he said: “This is, you know, it fills me with great joy, but I am also filled with a lot of sadness tonight because I’m accepting an award at such a strange time. And, you know, my experiences in making this film made me very aware of the sadness and the dehumanization of people at times of war, and the repercussions of war. And whomever you believe in, if it’s God or Allah, may He watch over you. And let’s pray for a peaceful and swift resolution. Thank you. And I have a friend from Queens who’s a soldier in Kuwait right now, Tommy Zarabinski. And I hope you and your boys make it back real soon. God bless you, guys. I love you. Thank you very much”.
1. Alfred Hitchcock, Irving G, Thalberg Memorial Award, 1968
Alfred Hitchcock, who changed the course of cinema and remains one of the greatest pioneering figures never won a competitive Oscar. It is safe to assume that he was beyond this competition. Yet he was awarded the Academy’s Irving G. Thalberg Lifetime Achievement Award for his distinguished contribution to cinema. Despite his adorable appearance, his baritone and taciturn nature complemented the gruesome and violent images he conjured in his films; the same came to play when he walked up to accept the award. Hitchcock, who made regular cameos in films, perhaps mistook the Award acceptance as one such cameo and in his very dry sense of humour delivered the shortest speech in the history of the Academy which was a guffaw-inducing moment.
After he walked up to receive his award, the audience was probably expecting a long, emotional speech about what cinema means to him. However, this man of surprises simply leaned in to say “thank you” before awkwardly following it up with “very much indeed”. However, the mic had been cut and all that was audible was “thank you… indeed”. He walked off the stage nonchalantly and it goes down in history as one of the wildest Oscar speeches ever delivered. Just like his films, it had a twist. It was not boring and went down as one of the most memorable Academy moments.