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Winning an Oscar represents the culmination of years of labor and faith in the careers of those who work in film. When your name is called, it's etched in stone forever, never to be taken away by anyone or anything. And that's all fantastic.
There's one final detail that can still go terribly awry, however; something that can, fair or unfair, eternally undermine your win and your performance in the film: A botched acceptance speech.
Don't **** up the acceptance speech.
Here are nine unfortunate incidences of a less-than-stellar moment in the Oscar spotlight.
Hilary Swank, Best Actress, "Boys Don't Cry," (1999)
Analysis: The speech wasn't so much "bad" as it was embarrassing for Swank, who, when her name is announced, A) passionately kisses and stares deeply into the eyes of her husband, Chad Lowe, 2) gets on stage and takes out a list, explaining, "On the off chance that I got up here, I brought this piece of paper, because I knew I couldn't forget everyone," and then D) forgets to thank her husband, Chad Lowe. They are not married anymore because (frowny face) poor Chad got his feewings huht... and also because of irreconcilable differences.
Sean Penn, Best Actor, "Mystic River" (2003)
Analysis: Penn starts off the speech following his first Academy Award win by telling the crowd, "If there's one thing that actors know, other than that there weren't any WMDs..." Yes, Sean. The invasion of Iraq was a bad idea based on a lie, and you were right. But you just won an Oscar - why do anything that may potentially alienate those that have been cheering for you? You had already lost the significant percentage of America rooting for Bill Murray. Penn spends the rest of the speech thanking people that pop into his head in between awkward pockets of extended silence as the camera indiscriminately pans to bored audience members.
Angelina Jolie, Best Supporting Actress, "Girl Interrupted" (1999)
Analysis: I'm not a doctor anymore, but it's not healthy to be in love with your brother, let alone open your Oscar speech with "I'm so in love with my brother right now." That would have been cringe-inducing enough by itself, but Jolie ends the speech with more creepy gushing towards her
obvious no pants dance partner brother, and you can just feel the room go from "We're all happy for Angelina!" to "Ok, so, what the **** is going on in that family?" in under four seconds. I only wish the camera was on Jolie's brother when James Coburn introduced the five nominees as "sexy" so we could have seen him nodding vigorously.
Nicolas Cage, Best Actor, "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995)
Analysis: This speech sounds like it was delivered by your buddy doing an incredible Nicolas Cage impersonation instead of Nicolas Cage himself, as if Cage is simply unable to turn off the "Nicolas Cage" switch in his brain at any time. Like he just wakes up and says "It's Cage time!" and becomes Nicolas Cage. Not a bad thing necessarily, just makes the speech sound a tad bit insincere. And the thing at the end with his child is adorable, sure, but it just comes off as weird because it's Nicolas Cage and it had no chance of not being weird.
James Cameron, Best Director, "Titanic" (1997)
Analysis: The speech is fine up until the last ten seconds, when Cameron unfortunately chooses to shout, "I'm the king of the world!" - you know, that famous line from the script that he wrote for the movie that he directed, and I don't point that out to call him arrogant as much as to call him stupefyingly lame. And for the love of Billy Zane, James, you've already made enough a fool of yourself, please refrain from the "woo"-ing at the end.
Sally Field, Best Actress, "Places in the Heart" (1984)
Analysis: This is the speech that's infamous for Field shouting, "You like me, you really like me!" except that she actually said, "You like me, right now, you like me," but still, the misplaced hysteria remains. And at one point in the speech, she thanks her family for "having patience for this obsession of me." Field misspoke - she presumedly meant "obsession of mine" - but "obsession of me" actually totally works within the context of the rest of the speech.
Marlon Brando, Best Actor, "The Godfather" (1972)
Analysis: We admire the cause taken up by Brando and the Oscars are undoubtedly the forum with which he would be able to reach the most ears. But this speech was more memorable for its awkwardness than it was for inspiring the better treatment of American Indians by the film industry. Still, who were the assholes that booed? "BOOOO OH COME ON WE LOVE AMERICAN INDIANS NOW GET THE **** OFF THE STAGE BOOOOOO"
Melissa Leo, Best Supporting Actress, "The Fighter," (2010)
Analysis: Leo walks on stage and engages in an awkward interaction with Kirk Douglas, during which she appears to believe that she's still on a movie set. Then she drops an F bomb. Then she takes way too long to finish. Then she randomly exits with the completely out of place "'Cause it's about SELLIN' MOTION PICTURES, and RESPECTING THE WORK!" Then as she's walking off stage, she uses Douglas's cane as a prop, acting like an old lady for no reason apparent to anyone. Good call, Melissa. I bet he probably doesn't even need that to walk. It's all for show. He's only 95.
George Clooney, Best Supporting Actor, "Syriana," 2006
Analysis: It's like Clooney is physically unable to speak in public without coming off like he's hitting on all of us at once. He starts with two genuinely funny jokes, and from there he swan dives into a mosh-pit of self-congratulation that must have made even those who chose to attend an award ceremony fueled entirely on self-congratulation feel awkward. Though it's out of his control, the speech is penalized additionally for the show's director cutting to the row of black people after Clooney brought up black people. "Find Jamie Foxx or you're fired! QUICKLY! PLEASE!"