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Top 10 Awkward Oscar Moments

Jorge Sette By Jorge Sette Published on January 25, 2016

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This article was updated on February 6, 2017


The Academy Awards ceremony takes place in Los Angeles annually either in the months of March of February. They celebrate and give prizes to members of the film industry whose movies have had paid screenings for at least one week in the Los Angeles County, California, before Dec 31st of the previous year. Watched by over 40 million people all over the globe, at different time zones, it’s one of the most popular shows on TV. 

The ceremony is usually longer than most people would wish it to be and after the initial thrilling moments, it drags on until the final 20 minutes, when the most important prizes are handed out: Best Screenplay, Director and Movie. The Oscars for Best Actors (male and female) in leading or supporting roles are usually among the best moments too.

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Not many people, however, look forward to the boring acceptance speeches, crude jokes and colorless musical numbers (with rare exceptions) that tend to dominate the show.

The success of the ceremony also depends in great part on the talent and charisma of the host. We have had excellent hosts (Billy Crystal), average ones (Ellen Degeneres) and embarrassing performances (Anna Hathaway and James Franco, who presented together, making a total fool of themselves).

Since it’s inception in 1929, the Academy Awards ceremony has had moving, thrilling, funny and cumbersome moments – when things seem to get out of control and become instantly memorable. Let’s remember some of these awkward occasions we have watched or heard about, perplexed, through the years:

1. Frank Capra. One of the most unforgettable gaffes in the Oscars happened in 1934. While opening the envelope containing the winner for Best Picture, presenter Will Rogers said “Come on up and get it, Frank!”. Frank Capra was already on the stage when he realized the Oscar was meant for Frank Lloyd! Everyone felt awful.

2. Hattie McDaniel. You may be following this year’s controversy surrounding what it has been called the all-white Oscars, due to the lack of nominations of African-Americans. Things have been worse, though. Let’s remember one of the most racist situations ever occurred in the ceremony. Young audiences may not remember her or the movie. Hattie MacDaniel was the first African-American to win an Oscar. The award was for Best Supporting Actress for Gone With The Wind in 1940, in which she played a docile and submissive black maid to the white heroine Scarlett O’Hara. However, the actress was forced to sit throughout the ceremony at a segregated table at the back of the room, away from the other members of the cast. Yes, this was Hollywood!

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3. Marlon Brando. In 1973, Marlon Brando won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Godfather. He did not show up to receive the award. Instead, the Oscar was accepted on his behalf by Sacheen Littlefeather, allegedly an Apache woman who was the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee at the time. She claimed Brando “regretfully cannot accept this very generous award” due to “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television and in movie reruns.” It turns out she was not even an authentic Native American.

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4. David Niven. Not his fault, really, although some people claim the stunt was planned. In the middle of Niven’s introduction to Elizabeth Taylor during the ceremony in 1974, the audience was shocked when a naked man ran across the stage. Undisturbed, the veteran author commented some minutes later: "Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”

5. Vanessa Redgrave. When she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the movie Julia (1978), the actress didn’t mince words in expressing her pro-Palestinian perspective, calling the opponents to their cause a “small bunch of Zionist hoodlums”, irritating members of the audience. Sometimes one should keep their political beliefs for themselves.

6. Gwyneth Paltrow. In 1999, the actress broke down while delivering her acceptance speech for Best Actress in the movie Shakespeare in Love, crying and sobbing embarrassingly throughout her endless speech. Ricky Gervais was right when, in his opening speech as a host at this year’s Golden Globes, he warned prospective winners against becoming too emotional if they won, as nobody really cared about their prizes except for themselves. Wise.

7. Bjork. The red carpet is one of the most anticipated moments of the show, when the audience listens to interviews with their favorite stars in a more informal context and admire (or trash) the elaborate costumes of the actresses. In 2001, however, the Icelandic singer Bjork decided to mock the ritual, wearing the most bizarre outfit in Oscar history: she paraded down the aisle in a ludicrous and tasteless swan dress, laying eggs in the process. Catherine Deneuve, her co-star in the movie Dancer in the Dark, visibly uncomfortable, did not to know how to react to such an embarrassing situation while they posed together for photos.

8. Tom Hanks. One of the first big stars to play an openly gay role, Hanks was rewarded for this audacity winning the Oscar for Best Actor for his role as an AIDS stricken lawyer in Philadelphia (1994). However, the actor tactlessly thanked his high school drama teacher - one of “the finest gay Americans”, in his opinion – for inspiring his acting in the role. It turns out the poor 69-year-old man, named Rawley Farnswort, then retired, had never come out – which was a great source of embarrassment for his friends and family. You should know better Mr. Hanks!

9. Adrien Brody. When he went on the stage to get his Oscar for Best Actor for his brilliant performance in The Pianist (2002), Brody embarrassed the whole world by placing a long kiss on presenter Halle Berry's lips, even before delivering his acceptance speech. What was he thinking?

10. Jennifer Lawrence. In 2013, when her name was called out to receive the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in the movie Silver Linings Playbook, the 22-year-old Jennifer tripped on her long trail dress and fell on the stairs to the podium. She started her acceptance speech by acknowledging the only reason she was getting a standing ovation from the audience was that she had embarrassed everyone with the fall. And she thanked them! It could happen to anyone – who wears that kind of dress.

The Academy Awards this year will take place on Feb 28th. Let’s see what happens…

Jorge Sette

Jorge Sette is Bookwitty's Regional Ambassador for South America. He represents the company, writing relevant content for the region, recruiting contributors, contacting partners and ... Show More

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