You don’t make it into the history books for simply saying “I’d like to thank the Academy.”
The Oscar acceptance speech is a tricky and unique part of pop culture. It’s simultaneously a victory lap for the person who worked hard to get the industry’s highest honor and a public platform. It must be eloquent but not overly prepared. Reading the speech just doesn’t feel as good.
As hard as it is to pull off a truly great Oscar speech, it has been done. Earlier speeches by Julie Andrews in 1965 (“I know you Americans are famous for your hospitality, but this is really ridiculous”) and Ruth Gordon in 1969 (“I can’t tell you how encouraging a thing like this is”) were on the right track, but in recent years, recipients have truly honed the craft. (Mahershala Ali had us welling up in 2017 after winning for “Moonlight.”)
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We liked her! Sally Field gave a speech for the ages when she won her second Oscar. (Photo: Associated Press)
Just in time for the 92nd Academy Awards on Feb. 9, we’ve rounded up our five favorites of all time.
1. Tom Hanks (1994)
Taking best actor for “Philadelphia,” Hanks exhibited the qualities that have helped him remain one our most beloved movie stars. He thanked his wife, praised his co-stars and accidentally outed his high-school drama teacher. But the part everyone remembers is the moving tribute he made to AIDS victims.
“The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. We know their names. They number a thousand for each of the red ribbons we wear here tonight,” Hanks said.
2. Halle Berry (2002)
Wearing a dress that would go down as one of the best Oscar looks of all time, the “Monster’s Ball” star delivered an emotional and powerful speech. Berry was the first black woman to win best actress and her speech, delivered between sobs and gasps, recognized the gravity of the win.
“This moment is so much bigger than me,” she said. “This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me: Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
3. Sally Field (1985)
We liked her!
Sometimes a speech rises above its time and place and becomes its own part of the zeitgeist. Field’s joyful acceptance of the best-actress award for “Places in the Heart” was one of those moments. Her cry of “You like me!” (not “You really like me” as some mistakenly quote) has taken on a life of its own.
“I haven’t had an orthodox career and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect,” she said. “I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!”
4. Jack Palance (1992)
Inspirational speeches can move the audience. But so can comedic ones.
When Palance won best supporting actor for “City Slickers” at age 73, he celebrated by dropping to the stage for some one-arm push-ups.
“You know, a long time ago in 1949, first picture … I’d been shooting about two weeks and the producer came to me,” Palance said. “He says, ‘Jack, you’re going to win the Academy Award.’ Can you believe it? Forty-two years later, he was right.”
5. Common and John Legend (2015)
Common and John Legend’s win for original song “Glory” from Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” was one of the most impactful wins in the past few years at the Oscars. In a year when the #OscarsSoWhite controversy truly came to the forefront of the cultural conversation, the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic Selma march was infamously snubbed for many nominations, and took home only this award. But these two musicians made the most of an acceptance speech that was eloquent, not too long and full of both political and emotional verve. “This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation, but now a symbol for change,” Common said, and we absolutely believed him.
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