The speeches are arguably the most memorable parts of any Oscar ceremony. More than the wins themselves, the speeches are what people talk about the next day. We can hate the Academy for its decisions, but if the winner gives a worthy speech, we might actually forget about our contempt. A great Oscar speech can make or break a ceremony; enough great ones, and we might consider the whole thing a victory, even if the Academy’s choices leave us scratching our heads.
Throughout its 95-year history, from the 1927 Oscars to the 2023 Oscars, the ceremony has featured many incredible speeches. From the hilarious to the inspiring, from the socially conscious to the outright unhinged, these speeches have become almost as iconic as the actors delivering them and, in some cases, more famous than the wins themselves. Indeed, they have entered the pop culture lexicon, becoming important pieces of cinematic history.
You like her … you know how it goes. In 1985, Sally Field won her second Oscar for her work in the sentimental drama Places in the Heart. Playing a struggling widow facing everything from a tornado to the KKK, Field delivered an honest and sympathetic portrayal of resilience against all odds. Her Oscar win wasn’t surprising, but her speech sure was.
An ecstatic Field took the podium and delivered a tearful and breathless speech, thanking her co-stars and her family. Most memorably, Field thanked the Academy, stating all she wanted was their respect; thus, by awarding her a second Oscar, the infamously elitist Academy “liked her.” It was a refreshingly honest and unabashed reaction, and while many were critical of her candor, time has been very kind to this now-iconic speech.
Michael Moore won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for his 2002 documentary film Bowling for Columbine. The film is an in-depth exploration of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and a scathing examination of the effects and causes of violence within the U.S. and abroad.
Bowling for Columbine was already a heavily political documentary, so when Moore took the stage, most people expected him to make a statement. Accompanied by his fellow nominees, Moore decried then-president George W. Bush, calling him “a fictitious president” and condemning the Iraq War. Moore fought off loud “boos” from the crowd as he continued his impassioned speech, crying, “shame on you, Mr. President,” and bringing the Pope and the Dixie Chicks into the mix. Reaction to the speech was polarizing at the time, but it has aged like fine wine.
Everything, and I truly do mean everything, about Marion Cotillard’s Oscar win is incredible. Her genuinely shocked reaction upon hearing her name; her fellow nominees’ excitement at hearing Cotillard declared the winner; her spectacular Jean Paul Gaultier gown. All fell into place to allow her to deliver one of the most memorable, earnest, and refreshing speeches in Oscar’s long and messy history.
An obviously shocked Cotillard made her way to the stage, where Forest Whitaker handed her the statuette. Cotillard then thanked her director for changing her life. With her voice already breaking and her hands shaking, the French actress struggled to find the words to express her confusion and gratitude. She ended by saying there were “truly some angels in this city,” which prompted a huge reaction from the audience at the Dolby Theater.
The mighty Olivia Colman took home the Oscar for Best Actress for her stunning performance in Yorgos Lanthimos’ historical dark comedy The Favourite. Colman blended vulnerability and bite in her take on Queen Anne of England, delivering a performance that ranks atop the Best Actress victors of the 2010s. The 2019 Best Actress race was one for the ages, with Colman going head-to-head with Glenn Close. Ultimately, Colman prevailed, and the reaction shots from her fellow nominees are a thing of beauty.
An emotional Colman arrived on stage, proclaiming how surreal the experience was. She proceeded with a delightfully rambling speech where she acknowledged Lanthimos and the film’s cast and crew, talked about her former work as a cleaner, thanked her husband, and name-dropped Close, Sam Rockwell, Frances McDormand, and Lady Gaga. Colman is a remarkably spontaneous and genuine woman who can make the phone book funny with her comedic timing. However, her speech was truly humble, making it seem as if your best friend won an Oscar; you couldn’t help but cheer for her.
Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue presented the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Film at the 1996 Oscars. The winner was One Survivor Remembers, Kary Antholis’ jarring documentary about Gerda Weissman Klein’s ordeal as a Holocaust prisoner. The film is a heart-wrenching, but ultimately rewarding experience, and both Antholis and Weissman Klein took the stage to accept the award.
After Antholis finished his speech, Weissman Klein took to the podium and delivered a profound and deeply affecting reflection about what it means to be alive. Weissman Klein’s speech was haunting, touching, and triumphant, a sincere and thought-provoking meditation on what a privilege it is to simply be alive. By the time she was done, there wasn’t a dry eye at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
The one and only Ruth Gordon won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1969 for her scene-stealing performance in the horror movie Rosemary’s Baby. It’s not always that the Academy acknowledges horror; even rarer is recognizing a role as wacky as Minnie Castevet. Yet, for once, Academy voters thought outside the box and honored Gordon’s incredible performance.
The veteran actress strolled happily to the stage, wearing a dress that might look right at home on a 2022 runway, but mus have been rather unorthodox for 1969. Gordon then delivered an utterly hilarious speech that never once tried to hide how honored she was to be holding the golden statuette. Gordon closed her speech by saying, “please, excuse me” to all the voters who didn’t vote for her. Few actors could have pulled that off, but then again, Gordon was not like most actors.
Louise Fletcher gives one of the all-time best performances in Miloš Forman’s 1975 drama One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a film that has gone down in history as one of the greatest Best Picture victors. The actress delivers a chilling performance as the wicked Nurse Ratched, becoming one of cinema’s most enduring and iconic villains. Fletcher’s work earned her the 1976 Best Actress Oscar, and few times has the award been more deserved.
Arriving on stage, Fletcher delivered a speech that was equal parts funny, sincere, and deeply emotional. The actress opened with a joke, gracefully thanked her director, producers, and co-stars, and even squeezed in a second quip. However, the highlight of her speech came in the third act, when she thanked her parents, both of whom were Deaf, using sign language. As her voice broke, Fletcher thanked her mother and father in what remains arguably the most heartfelt moment in Oscar speech history. Simple yet profoundly touching, Fletcher’s speech remains an all-timer.
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