Academy Award night is known for its glamour, spectacle and very long ceremony. For winners, their acceptance speech should be the icing on the cake. Yet, all too often the topic the next day is the wit, whining or words the winners used. Let’s face it. Some Oscar acceptance speeches are more memorable than the winning performance that lead up to it.
Some Academy Award speeches endear a celebrity to audiences worldwide or show gratitude and poise (Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Steven Soderbergh and Ang Lee). Others have ill-used the event as a personal pulpit (Vanessa Redgrave and Sean Penn). Still other actors unintentionally create a moment that will be parodied for years (Sally Fields and James Cameron) or physical moments en route to the stage that overshadow whatever came out of their mouth. Here are some truly indelible Oscar winners that stand out in my mind for their charm and humility:
Joe Pesci, 1991: Pesci’s acceptance speech, after winning Best Supporting Actor for Goodfellas, was “It’s my privilege. Thank you.” It took longer to walk up than give one of the shortest acceptance speeches in Oscar history. For the curious, the longest speech was given in 1942 by Greer Garson; the Best Actress winner for Mrs. Miniver spoke for five-and-a-half minutes, which prompted the current time limits. The shortest was from 1971 Best Supporting Actor John Mills, who merely smiled and nodded after being honored for playing a deaf mute in Ryan’s Daughter.
Jack Palance, 1992: While accepting the Best Supporting Actor for City Slickers, 73-year-old Palance dropped to the floor and performed several one-armed push-ups to show his strength and vitality. He had last been nominated in 1952 and didn’t waste his shining moment.
Roberto Benigni, 1998: Italian filmmaker Benigni gleefully climbed across several seatbacks on the way to accept Best Foreign Language Film for Life is Beautiful. He was equally joyful and charming jumping on the stage and proclaiming “There must be some terrible mistake!” when he was awarded Best Actor later that night.
Adrien Brody, 2003: Brody, the youngest Best Actor winner ever at 29, was so excited when he got on stage that he planted a passionate kiss on a shocked Halle Berry. Then The Pianist actor then mused, “I bet they didn’t tell you that was in the gift bag.”
Sandra Bullock, 2010: When handed her Best Actress Oscar for The Blind Side, Bullock amiably asked the audience, “Did I really earn this or did I just wear you all down?”
Colin Firth, 2011: In an emotional speech after winning Best Actor for The King’s Speech, Firth humbly quipped, “I have a feeling my career has just peaked.”
Jennifer Lawrence, 2013: Lawrence tripped over her voluminous gown as she went to the stage to get her Best Actress award for Silver Linings Playbook. When she got up, she won hearts saying, “You guys are just standing up ’cause you feel bad that I fell.”
10 Most Memorable Oscar Speeches – Rotten Tomatoes
The Oscars: Grading the Speeches – The New Yorker
The Most Talked-About Acceptance Speeches in Oscar History – Fox News
Oscars: 20 Best Speeches of the Past 20 Years – Entertainment Weekly
The 25 Most Memorable Oscar Acceptance Speeches of the Past 25 Years – VH1