Sat. Jul 4th, 2020

From ‘Moonlight’ to ‘Music by Prudence,’ 15 of the Most Memorable Oscar Moments of the Decade

So many moments of the last 10 years of Oscar defined the decade. Great speeches, wild mix-ups and stage storming all helped create some of the famous, and infamous elements of the Academy Awards from 2010-2019. Here are just some of the best, and in some cases, worst, things that happened on the way to the Oscar stage.

15. Billy Crystal Returns as Oscar Host (2012)

When Billy Crystal returned to host the Oscars in 2012 after an 8-year absence the announcement was met with a fair amount of happiness for who many feel was one of the best hosts of all time. The result, however, was a bit mixed. Mostly relying on his classic schtick and his “Oscar, Oscar, who will win?” opening number, there was something both classic and stale about his return. Sometimes the past is in the past for a reason.

14. Jennifer Lawrence Takes a Tumble (2013)

“You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell.” If only all of us could fall so gracefully, Jennifer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDU7zLAd2-U (for some reason the video won’t embed)

13. Viola Davis’s Best Supporting Actress Speech (2017)

“Exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories.” “I became and artist and thank God I did. We are the only profession who celebrates what it means to live a life.” Although Davis won a Tony for this role in its leading category, after much debating (and hair-pulling by pundits, let me tell you), Davis chose to go supporting for Fences, a move that all but locked her win. Truth be told, I think she could have won in lead as well and would have become only the second Black Best Actress winner in Oscar history.

12. Music by Prudence Speech Interrupted

Shortly after Music by Prudence director Roger Ross Williams began his speech accepting the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject, he was suddenly interrupted by Elinor Burkett, his co-producer. Burkett, who lives in Zimbabwe where most of the film was shot, had sued Williams over the finished film, a suit that had been settled by the time of the ceremony. In an interview with Salon.com, where she was once a contributor, she explained that the film had been her idea. “Roger had never even heard of Zimbabwe before I told him about this.” She had been upset that Williams and HBO chose to focus on one person instead of the entire band, as the members had been led to believe. “I felt my role in this has been denigrated again and again, and it wasn’t going to happen this time.” She hustled onstage because, she claimed, Williams’ mother had blocked her from going down with her cane to prevent her from sharing the stage.

“She just ambushed me”, said Williams, “I just expected her to stand there. I had a speech prepared.” He said it was made clear by the Academy that only one person can give an acceptance speech. He said his mother had merely gotten up to hug him.

11. Leonardo DiCaprio Finally Wins an Oscar (2016)

After five Academy Award nominations (including one for Best Picture – The Wolf of Wall Street), it was Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant that sealed the deal for Leonardo DiCaprio. After earning his first nomination at just 18-years old (for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), DiCaprio set on a course of superstardom that few actors get to see. Titanic brought him worldwide visibility and success (although not an Oscar nomination) and the actor worked on multiple projects with Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan before landing his most physically and emotionally difficult role to date in The Revenant. Throughout awards season there was a clear sense of ‘it’s time’ for DiCaprio and he ran the season’s wins all the way to the Academy Awards with very little competition. Ever the activist, DiCaprio urged the seriousness of climate change and used it as a call to action, saying “Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.”

10. Robert Lopez Earns his EGOT with “Let It Go”

When Robert Lopez and Kristen Lopez won the Oscar for Best Original Song (for Frozen’s “Let It Go”) it not only turned Robert into an EGOT winner but he became the youngest winner to receive all four awards in competitive categories, as well as the fastest to complete his qualifying run of award wins (10 years), and has the shortest time to complete any run of wins (4 years). 

9. Julianne Moore Wins Best Actress (2015)

A five-time nominee at this point, Julianne Moore (Still Alice) had a clear path for this win (she had SAG, the Golden Globe, BAFTA, dozens of critics and other wins) and in an arguably weak field that year. But it doesn’t diminish that one of film’s hardest working and best actresses finally got her due. The first words of her speech were a cheeky and delicious dig at Hollywood’s predilection for younger women/older men romances saying, “I read an article that winning an Oscar could lead to living five years longer. If that’s true, I’d really like to thank the Academy because my husband is younger than me.”

8. Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler Become First Black Oscar Winners in Costume Design and Production Design (2019)

Ruth E. Carter was the first Black person ever nominated for Costume Design in 1993 for her work on Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. She was nominated again for her costume work on Steven Spielberg’s 1997 slave-ship drama Amistad. But it was her third nomination, for Black Panther, that made her a winner and the first Black person to ever win for costume design. “Wow, I got it. This has been a long time coming,” she said. “Spike Lee, thank you for my start. I hope this makes you proud.”

Hannah Beachler made Oscar history too, not only the first Black winner in Production Design, but also as the first Black nominee ever. “I stand here stronger than I was yesterday,” Beachler said. “I stand here with agency and self-worth because of [Black Panther director] Ryan Coogler—who not only made me a better designer, a better storyteller, a better person. I stand here because of this man who offered me a different perspective of life. Who offered me a safe space. Who is patient and gave me air, humanity, and brotherhood. Thank you, Ryan, I love you.”

7. Nominations Announcement for the 85th Academy Awards

The Academy Awards nominations announcements are always full of some of the season’s best moments. Between announcer Salma Hayek’s excitement at all of the Mexican nominees (and her unforgettable “andfromcanadawater”) for the 79th Oscars or Jennifer Lawrence for the 84th holding on just an extra second before revealing that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was the final Best Picture nominee, we often have very good reason to be up at 5am for these. in 2013 they really changed things up. Instead of the president of the Academy being joined by a well-known presenter, Seth MacFarlane, who was the host of the Oscars that year, and Emma Stone presided over the announcement and it wasn’t simply a stale reading of the nominees. There were bits and gags based on the nominees (“He’s won here before. He has won here before,” Stone remarked after every Best Supporting Actor nominee), but nothing was bigger than when it came to Best Director. Unlike in previous years, the names of films and actors were done out of alphabetical order, denying us pundits and predictors the immediate knowledge of who got snubbed based on order. This was crucial for Best Director because as the expected names were announced – David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook, Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, Ang Lee for Life of Pi – something happened. Everyone in the room, and everyone watching at home, expected the next two names to be Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty and Ben Affleck for Argo. Bigelow was coming off being the first female Best Director winner just three years prior and both had, DGA Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Then MacFarlane says “Michael Haneke for Amour…and Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild” and the everyone in the room gasped. It took a moment to realize that Bigelow and Affleck had been snubbed and it became one of the best nominations announcement moments of all time.

6. Patricia Arquette’s Speech Calling for Equal Pay for Women (2015)

Patricia Arquette, a vocal political activist in life and on Twitter, used her Best Supporting Actress speech (for Boyhood) to champion closing the gender pay gap not only in her industry but in the US as a whole. Her speech was met with rousing support, including the now-classic “Yes!’ finger point from Meryl Streep in the front row. “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” Arquette said. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

5. Geoffrey Fletcher Becomes First Black Screenwriter to win Adapted Screenplay (2010)

A surprise win by most (Up in the Air was largely predicted here), Geoffrey Fletcher’s adaptation of Push: A Novel By Sapphire that became Precious, resulted in him becoming the first Black screenwriter ever to win the Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Fletcher, visibly shocked and flummoxed said, “I don’t know what to say. This is for everyone who works on a dream every day, precious boys and girls everywhere.” While Oscar wins often open the door to many more opportunities, Fletcher has only written two more produced feature film scripts (2018’s Trial by Fire, starring Laura Dern) and directed one of them, 2011’s Violet & Daisy, starring Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel.

4. Olivia Colman Beats Glenn Close in Best Actress (2019)

It was the ‘pffffggg’ heard ’round the world. Glenn Close (The Wife) was on her 7th Oscar nomination this year and things were finally looking like they were going her way. She won SAG (beating Colman), Critics Choice (beating Colman) and the Golden Globe (Colman won in Comedy). But it was BAFTA that tipped the scales in Colman’s favor, not to mention The Favourite was a 10-time nominated film which was in danger of going home empty-handed that night. Like Viola Davis, Colman could have quite easily run herself as supporting for The Favourite (she did have the least amount of actual screen time between her, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) but chose to go lead, a strategy that paid off. Her speech was genuine, silly and funny (“This is never gonna happen again!”). Her “This is not how I wanted it to be” to Close was infused with fantastic honesty and heart.

3. Lady Gaga’s Three Performances (2015, 2017, 2019)

Sometimes musical performances at the Oscars are its most cringy moments. Think Snow White and Rob Lowe or the interpretative dance to the song from Crash. Other times they transcend just being songs or numbers and becomes moments, legacy. In just a span of five years, Lady Gaga has performed three times on the show, each an exponential growth of the one before. Her tribute to Julie Andrews and the songs of The Sound of Music was gorgeous and her stage presence was dominant. Her emotional performance of “Til It Happens To You,” for which she was Oscar-nominated (and lost), was an emotional powerhouse that ended with sexual assault survivors filling up the stage in the night’s most powerful moment. But it was 2019 that went to the next level. With “Shallow” being the overwhelming favorite to win Best Original Song, the Oscars pulled out all the stops to make a moment to remember. Shooting from the back of the stage to the audience, we are behind the red curtain as it lifts. Crew pushes a piano out to center stage as the camera glides along with them. In one continuous shot, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga rise from their front row seats and up the stairs to the stage and they begin to sing. Cooper is a bit reedy at first, and definitely nervous, but Gaga’s empathy (look at her looking at him) seems to smooth him out and once she begins the audience, both in the Dolby and at home, are enraptured.

2. Kathryn Bigelow Becomes First Female Best Director Winner (2010)

“Well, the time has come,” said Barbra Streisand just before she announced Kathryn Bigelow as Best Director for The Hurt Locker, the first woman ever to win. (Sidebar: a bit shady to have Streisand, overlooked twice for a nomination here, present. “Can I hold it?” she asks). In the 82 years of Oscar to that point, no woman had ever won Best Director. Only FOUR had ever even been nominated. While the odds were in Bigelow’s favor (she had won DGA and BAFTA) she was up against what was the biggest movie of all time (Avatar) directed by her ex-husband (James Cameron, who had won the Golden Globe), a Best Director winner already for Titanic, which was, until Avatar, the biggest movie of all time). The tension that season was palpably thick. The onus on the Academy to finally recognize a woman in directing plus the relationship between Bigelow and Cameron dominated the conversation. He weirdly begged the Academy to give her Best Director and him Best Picture (so magnanimous, this guy), adding another layer of oddness to the race. While Bigelow’s win was a long time coming, and richly deserved, in true Academy fashion, they’ve all but reverted back. Since 2010, only one more woman has been nominated (Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird in 2018). Even with an ever-expanding membership and large growth in the directing branch, they still, in year 92, side with men, making this win all the more poignant and bittersweet.  

1. ‘Moonlight Wins Best Picture…after ‘La La Land’ Does (2017)

Samuel L. Jackson cried. Shirley MacLaine clutched her pearls. Mouths were agape.

When Faye Dunaway exclaimed “La La Land!” as the Best Picture winner no one batted an eye. Despite a spotty build up throughout Oscar night, it came in with the Producers Guild, Directors Guild and Golden Globe awards and was the frontrunner. But then something happened in the middle of the speeches. Men with headsets stormed the stage, with envelopes in hand. Something was wrong. La La Land producers continued to give their speeches as the melee behind them ensued, even after being made aware of what had happened. “We didn’t win, by the way,” said Fred Berger at the end of his. It was only when producer Jordan Horowitz saw what had happened he exclaimed “Moonlight won Best Picture” to the confusion of the audience. There was a weird sense of ‘come up here and share this with us’ camaraderie to his request, not that he was actually revealing a truth. A moment later Warren Beatty was holding the correct Best Picture winner card and Horowitz took action. Snatching it from Beatty’s hand he showed it to the camera (resulting in the world’s best timed zoom in ever) and said, “Moonlight. Best Picture.” The two people from PricewaterhouseCoopers in charge of dispensing the envelopes to presenters (Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz) had failed. Cullinan was so busy taking pictures backstage (which is not allowed) that he neglected to give the correct envelope to Beatty and Dunaway. See, each side of the stage has complete sets of winner envelopes. Depending on which side of the stage presenters enter from a PwC rep gives them the correct one. But not this night. Cullinan gave Beatty the envelope of the last winner announced, Best Actress. What if Isabelle Huppert or Natalie Portman had won Best Actress? Would Beatty and Dunaway have called out “Elle!” or “Jackie!” as Best Picture? Beatty knew what was up and punted over to Dunaway to take the fall. Dunaway just wanted to get the fuck off stage and eat her cashews (presumably brought to her from some “little homosexual boy”) so she absolutely would have yelled “JACKIE!” and been done with it.

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