With the pinnacle of awards season waiting in the wings, the world applauds Oscar
Written by Jenn Thornton
No matter how unforgettable the moment, from a jubilant and genuinely shocked Adrien Brody kissing an unsuspecting Halle Berry to Marlon Brando refusing his Oscar in protest, one show has it seen it all (including a naked man streaking across the stage in 1974): the Academy Awards. A ceremonial spectacle dripping in jewels, the prominent awards-season ender is one of the most watched events in the entire world, where gorgeously garbed celebrities glitter in diamonds and dress but never outshine the man of the hour, Oscar.
Now such a procession, one can hardly envision the Academy Awards in its infancy—a small dinner party held at the Blossom Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in 1929. A major hope for the affair was that it would in part lend cinema (at the time widely considered popular entertainment of a mostly tasteless sort) some much-needed credence and, in doing so, help Hollywood shake off some of its indignities.
But what began as something of a public relations exercise transformed into a genuine congratulatory gathering recognizing achievement in film. Morphing from banquet to broadcast, the proceedings hopped venues (the Ambassador Hotel, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Shrine Auditorium, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Dolby Theatre) and did what Hollywood does: entertain. Hosts from Bob Hope, with his largely unthreatening quips, to Billy Crystal, with his jokey opening montages, have dazzled audiences, while comedy giants Ellen DeGeneres, Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock have all taken the main stage out for a spin. In appeal for hipper crowds and indie cred, emcees like David Letterman and the inexplicable pairing of James Franco and Anne Hathaway are best thought of as experiments.
But controversy has always been part of the Oscars. Politics has found its way to the podium more than once; many celebrities have all taken the opportunity to use the platform to push various causes. Other outbursts have come from those simply overcome by the moment: Sally Field, named Best Actress for Places in the Heart then proclaiming, “You like me, you really like me!”; Cuba Gooding, Jr., announced Best Supporting Actor for Jerry Maguire, then screaming his speech above the swell of the orchestra; and Tom Hanks inadvertently outing his favorite teacher during his Best Actor acceptance speech for Philadelphia. The Oscars has induced tears (Charlie Chaplin’s 12-minute ovation), inspired awe (Lady Gaga’s shockingly operatic tribute to Julie Andrews), and stirred disbelief (Rob Lowe’s song-and-dance debacle with Snow White). Cher’s getups, Jack Palance’s one-armed pushups, Leonardo finally landing an Oscar—it’s been year after year of golden moments.
Best of all, it’s all been live—even the most epic mistake in Oscar history: La La Land mistakenly named the Best Picture of last year instead of rightful recipient Moonlight. Only in Hollywood, where it’s always a classic.
Photos courtesy of AMPAS