With all the recent talk about how the motion picture academy could change the Oscars telecast — and the fierce blowback to any proposals that they would — we’re reminded of why we’ve loved watching the Academy Awards for so long.
At their best, the Oscars do more than just honor great achievements in filmmaking. They also provide those unforgettable TV moments — wonderful, terrible and somewhere in between — that can be just as singular as the movies they celebrate.
Below, 12 of The Times’ entertainment staff writers and editors share their individual picks for most memorable Oscars moment.
It should have been a triumph — Marlon Brando winning his second Oscar for a career-revitalizing role in “The Godfather.” Instead, Brando sent actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who with a polite wave of her hand refused the statue in protest of the film industry’s portrayal of Native Americans. Brando had engineered a pre-woke-era stand for inclusive representation.
— Mark Olsen
With Richard Nixon’s presidency unraveling and political unrest roiling the country, Oscars co-host David Niven was telling viewers it seemed “the whole world is having a nervous breakdown” when, as if on cue, a man named Robert Opel ran naked across the stage, flashing a peace sign. Political protest, performance art or faddish prank? Hey, it was the ’70s.
— Josh Rottenberg
Thirsty for ratings, the 61st Academy Awards delivered a night to remember — for the wrong reasons — with a cringe-inducing, 11-minute opening in which a singing Snow White co-opted “Proud Mary” with Rob Lowe, backed by dancers dressed as Coconut Grove tables and Grauman’s ushers. Celebs could barely hide their horror from the cameras.
— Jen Yamato
For me, the single best Oscar speech was delivered by Emma Thompson when she won adapted screenplay for “Sense and Sensibility.” “Before I came,” Thompson said, “I went to visit Jane Austen’s grave, in Winchester cathedral, to pay my respects, you know, and” — small pause here — “tell her about the grosses.”
— Stuart Emmrich
When the tiny Irish indie “Once” won original song for Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s “Falling Slowly,” Hansard made charmingly shocked remarks. But after only 36 seconds, Irglova stepped up and was loudly played off. After the break, host Jon Stewart brought her back on … “Hi, everyone,” she said. “I just want to thank you so much … . Fair play to those who dare to dream and don’t give up.”
— Michael Ordona
Under hot lights and in front of cameras streaming live to millions, even big Hollywood stars get nervous. Just ask John Travolta. In 2014, he was on stage to introduce Idina Menzel performing “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” Instead, in one of the most epic pronunciation fails, he referred to her as “Adele Dazeem.”
— Amy Kaufman
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