Delivering a good Oscar acceptance speech is not easy. If you over prepare, you seem arrogant, like you knew you were going to win all along, and if you aren’t ready for your name to be called, you’re almost certain to forget to thank your significant other or your film’s director. Some Oscar winners suffer from a serious case of the sniffles and leave audiences unsure what they even said, while others go off on tangents that have nothing to do with movies at all.
In the end, though, it mostly just comes down to having that special something, that je ne sais quoi. And let’s face it, you’ve either got it or you don’t. Below are five stars we think nailed it when they were called onstage and five who, well, didn’t exactly charm viewers’ pants off on movies’ biggest night.
Cuba Gooding Jr., Best Supporting Actor, “Jerry Maguire” (1998)
Gooding’s acceptance speech is basically an exercise in pure joy. The actor leapt to the stage and earnestly thanked just about everyone he’s ever met, starting with his mother and God, and issued “I love you’s” to “Maguire” co-star Tom Cruise, director Cameron Crowe and pretty much everyone else who worked on the film. His genuine enthusiasm captured the crowd and earned him a standing ovation.
Halle Berry, Best Actress, “Monsters Ball” (2002)
History was made when Berry won the Best Actress statue — she was the first African American woman to claim the lead actress prize — and she honored the moment with an emotional speech that she dedicated to “every nameless, faceless woman of color who now has a chance after tonight because this door has been opened.” She thanked the actors and actresses of color who came before her and declared the moment “so much bigger” than herself. Her speech was an exercise in humility and surprise — two things most Oscar acceptance speeches could benefit from.
Jennifer Hudson, Best Supporting Actress, “Dreamgirls” (2007)
Hudson’s took home the Oscar for her very first film performance and delivered a simple acceptance speech that was probably most notable for how humble and truly surprised she seemed to hear her name called. Though she’d been a favorite throughout awards season that year, she seemed shocked when George Clooney announced that she’d won and stuttered and stumbled her way through her speech, but was sure to thank all those she needed to, from “Dreamgirls” director Bill Condon and her co-stars to her family, friends and Jennifer Holliday, who originated the role of Effie White on Broadway.
Tom Hanks, Best Actor, “Philadelphia” (1994)
Hank’s Oscar acceptance speech may well be the only one to have inspired a movie itself. His lengthy speech was marked by some traits we don’t always love — it certainly felt rehearsed — but the actor’s gratitude seemed genuine when he thanked his high school drama teacher, Rawley Farnsworth, as well as a former classmate, who he called “two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men.” There was only one problem: Farnsworth was still in the closet about his sexuality. The slip of the lip inspired the 1997 film “In & Out,” in which Kevin Kline plays a high school drama teacher outed when his former student (played by Matt Dillon) wins an Oscar. In a nice turn of events, the always lovely Joan Cusack earned an Oscar nomination herself playing Kline’s jilted fiancée in “In & Out.”
Julia Roberts, Best Actress, “Erin Brockovich” (2001)
Then easily the world’s biggest female movie star, a clearly nervous and deeply happy Roberts delivered a gracious — and long — speech that she wisely prefaced by asking the orchestra director, whom she referred to as “Stick Man,” to sit on his baton. She burst out in fits of laughter throughout and charmed the audience with asides about her director Steven Soderbergh, then-boyfriend Benjamin Bratt and her co-stars and delivered what was maybe the most gracious “thank you” ever to the other women up for Best Actress that year: Joan Allen, Juliette Binoche, Ellen Burstyn and Laura Linney.
Marlon Brando, Best Actor, “The Godfather Part” (1973)
There are plenty of places for actors to make political statements, but the Oscars really isn’t one of them. The film legend did not attend the 1973 Academy Awards and instead famously sent American Indian rights activist “Sacheen Littlefeather,” nee Marie Cruz, in his place with a 15-page statement to read onstage if he won the prize — which he did. An Academy Awards producer intercepted her backstage and threatened to have her physically removed if she spoke for longer than 60 seconds, so when Littlefeather stepped onstage to accept Brando’s prize, she waved the Oscar away and gave an off-the-cuff speech about the Wounded Knee Incident.
The incident inspired the Academy to alter its rules to not permit proxies to accept Oscar trophies.
Adrien Brody, Best Actor, “The Pianist” (2003)
Some loved Brody’s enthusiastic speech while others took great issue with his onstage behavior. When the actor reached the stage to accept his prize, the first thing he did was sweep Halle Berry up into his arms and plant a passionate kiss on the clearly shocked actress’s lips. While it seemed mostly harmless and Berry was a good sport about the ordeal, many thought it inappropriate as he clearly did not have her consent before kissing her.
James Cameron, Best Director, “Titanic” (1998)
The only word to sum up Cameron’s Best Director speech is “arrogant.” Throughout his otherwise inoffensive speech, the director seemed imbued with the confidence of a man who knew the prize was his before his name was even called, which is fine and dandy and probably not all that overreaching, as his film was widely acclaimed and well on its way to becoming the highest-grossing film ever. However, his decision to conclude with one of the film’s most famous lines — “I’m king of the world”— left a sour taste in the mouths of viewers.
Angelina Jolie, Best Supporting Actress, “Girl, Interrupted” (2000)
Everything about Angelina Jolie’s Oscar evening the night of her win was, well, kind of weird. Not only was the drop-dead-gorgeous actress dressed like Morticia Adams, she brought her brother, James Haven Voight, as her date and the pair acted a little too close for comfort on the red carpet. They kissed and clung to each other and it was totally gross … then she won the Best Supporting Actress prize and thanked her bro, saying, “I’m just so in love with my brother right now.” The whole thing was awkward and the incident haunted the actress for years, until her tabloid drama with current partner Brad Pitt and her humanitarian work on behalf of refugees finally overshadowed the strange behavior.
Michael Moore, Best Documentary Feature, “Bowling For Columbine” (2003)
Like Brando, Moore used the Oscars as a political forum and it was just as inappropriate when he did it. Moore scored the documentary prize for “Columbine,” a powerful film about gun violence in America, but rather than thank those who helped him make the important doc, he used the stage to express his disdain for President George W. Bush and his disagreement with the decision to invade Iraq. “We are against this war, Mr. Bush,” Moore chastised. “Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you.” No, shame on Michael Moore for using the Oscars as a soap box when they are supposed to be a celebration of film.
What Oscar speeches do you think should make the lists of best and worst? Leave your comment below!
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