Oh my God. Thank you. Thank you. I can’t...God, I’m so nervous! This is, just, this is incredible. So unexpected—I didn’t even prepare anything! [surreptitiously unfolds piece of paper stored in cleavage]. Firstly, I have to thank the Academy, without whom I wouldn’t be here today, bringing you this feature about the most Memorable Oscar Speeches ever. And I have to thank the Editors, Rodrigo and Kevin, and my fellow features writer Oli, and all the nominees (whose company I am so humbled to share, though I don’t know how the hell Meryl Streep got into this category too).
You know, when we look at the Oscar acceptance speeches of years past, there have been moments of great triumph, and moments of great adversity, as winners have taken the podium to say a few words that they’ve presumably been rehearsing since they were tall enough to look in the bathroom mirror (shout out to Kate Winslet for admitting as much in her speech). We’re here today to recognize those who have achieved not just excellence in their field of expertise, but excellence in another field—that of walking onto a stage and delivering a few seconds of airtime that, for better or worse, are hard to forget.
But just before we run down, in no particular order, twelve memorable Oscar speeches, I wanted to… wait, what? You’re playing me off? But I have so much more to…[forgets to thank Harvey Weinstein; has no subsequent career]
Gwyneth Paltrow – Best Actress at the 1999 Awards for "Shakespeare in Love"
Highlights: It’s a little unfair that Gwyneth’s speech has become a byword, along with Halle Berry’s, for gushing waterworks, because she does manage to get through the first 1m40s quite creditably, even delivering a little joke about agents’ reputations. But that’s before mentioning (seemingly every member of) her family, especially her mother Blythe Danner, which brings on the tears and, more detrimentally, the squeaky-voiced sobs about how everyone apparently means the world to seemingly everyone else.
Bonus Trivia: Recipient of a kind-of-outrageous-seeming 9 Oscars, “Shakespeare in Love” also took Best Picture that year, causing a minor scandal in beating out “Saving Private Ryan.” We wonder if any of the other nominees in that category would have managed higher than 53 in our rankings of every Best Picture?
Cuba Gooding Jr – Best Supporting Actor at the 1997 Awards for "Jerry Maguire"
Highlights: Perhaps bested only by Roberto Benigni’s turn two years later for sheer, uncontainable joy, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s speech is mostly a lot of thank yous, delivered with especial fervor to God and Tom Cruise. But what’s fun is how he says, at the start, “you can cut me off, I won’t be mad at you—and then when that happens, and the orchestra strikes up, Gooding Jr. basically treats the music as a soundtrack for the rest of his love-brimming speech and carries on regardless. It works surprisingly well.
Bonus Trivia: Gooding Jr.’s “brother” Tom Cruise was also nominated, in the Leading Actor category for Cameron Crowe’s film, which was the second of his three nominations so far, but he lost this time to Geoffrey Rush for “Shine.”
Christopher Plummer – Best Supporting Actor for "Beginners" at the 2012 Awards
Highlights: The very beginning: [addressed to his statuette] "You’re only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?" and the very end (weirdly cut off in the video below), where he touchingly thanks his wife Elaine who he claims "deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for coming to my rescue every day of my life."
Bonus Trivia: Plummer is only a Grammy away from a full EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) sweep, already having two Emmys, two Tonys and now an Oscar. If a retrospective Grammy for "Edelweiss" is out of the question, quick, someone cast him for a major audiobook (it's not like he hasn't got the voice for it). This needs to happen.
Ruth Gordon – Best Supporting Actress at the 1969 Awards for "Rosemary's Baby"
Highlights: Short and snappy, our very favorite part of the wonderful Gordon's speech may be where she waves a casually imperious hand to quiet the applause and laughter, and it works. But “The first film I was ever in was in 1915, and here we are in 1969. Actually I don’t know why it took me so long—I don’t think that I’m backward” comes a close second.
Bonus Trivia: We shouldn't be surprised her speech was so good. Gordon, in addition to turning in a criminally overlooked (at the time) performance in "Harold and Maude" (1972), and acting for seven decades, was also a three-time Oscar-nominated writer, notably for Hepburn/Tracy vehicles "Pat and Mike" and "Adam's Rib."