Culture Trips

The most awkward Oscars moments – ranked | Oscars 2021

20. Jack Palance, CrossFit hero (1992)

Nobody has ever accepted an award like Jack Palance. Winning best supporting actor at the age of 73 for his role in City Slickers, he strolled up to the stage, muttered: “Billy Crystal? I crap bigger than him”, then fell to the floor to show the world that he was still capable of doing one-handed pushups. It was a strong “drunk uncle at a barbecue” energy, which we can only hope that Anthony Hopkins tries to emulate on Sunday.

19. Sacheen Littlefeather (1973)

It used to be said that cool people don’t turn up to accept their Oscars. But the really cool people don’t even turn up to reject their Oscars. This is what Marlon Brando did in 1973, when he boycotted the awards and sent a native American woman named Sacheen Littlefeather to turn down the award on his behalf, while speaking out against Hollywood’s treatment of native Americans. At the time, Littlefeather said that she was not allowed to deliver the speech that Brando had written. In 2018, she delivered it for the first time, and it was five minutes long, so maybe the Oscars had a point.

18. Jennifer Lawrence (2013)

In 2013, upon winning her best actress Oscar, Jennifer Lawrence tripped over her dress and fell over. The following year, she stumbled and fell on the red carpet. Both instances were laughed off in good spirits, but it does all seem like an incredibly elaborate Mr Bean audition.

17. Michael Moore gets booed (2003)

For the most part, the Oscars exist within an insulated bubble of self-congratulation, which means it takes an awful lot to get booed onstage. So congratulations to Michael Moore who, accepting his award for Bowling for Columbine, raged against the war in Iraq and caused a firestorm in the process. Booing erupted in the hall, and then a wave of cheers to counter the boos, which in turn caused the boos to get louder, and basically what I’m trying to say is that Michael Moore invented Twitter.

16. Paddy Chayefsky v Vanessa Redgrave (1978)

It is now traditional for Oscar winners to use their platform to speak out on behalf of movements during their speeches, the most recent being Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre faux-profound “bad things are bad and good things are good” declaration last year. And this might be because Paddy Chayefsky isn’t around any more. In 1978, Vanessa Redgrave used her speech to rage against “Zionist hoodlums” who had protested against her pro-Palestine stance. When Chayefsky came to present an award, he told everyone that he was “sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda. I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple thank you would have sufficed.”

15. We saw your boobs (2013)

Seth MacFarlane has hosted the Oscars only once, and that is possibly because he spent some of his monologue singing about the female actors in the audience, and how many of their breasts he had seen onscreen. In truth the song was prerecorded, as part of a sketch where a future version of William Shatner explains to MacFarlane how badly his hosting stint will go. Which is an elaborate set-up for a joke about Kate Winslet’s breasts.

14. James Franco’s Drag Race (2011)

Nobody enjoyed the pairing of James Franco and Anne Hathaway as Oscars hosts, because they were respectively not enthusiastic enough and far, far too enthusiastic. As such, you could pick any of the times they appeared onstage together and accurately label it as historically awkward. But we’ll pick the bit where Franco dressed as Marilyn Monroe, because why the hell not?

13. Adrien Brody (2003)

When Adrien Brody won best actor for his role in The Pianist, he devoted much of his allotted speech time to grabbing Halle Berry and planting a quite aggressive kiss on her lips, seemingly without her agreement. Quite telling are the cutaways during the kiss; lots of actors punching the air with pride, and quite a few concerned-looking female actors.

12. Sheena Easton meets James Bond in space (1982)

You will remember For Your Eyes Only as the film where Bond went back to basics. Based in part on the Ian Fleming story Risico, it’s a thriller about a lost submarine tracking device, and 007’s attempts to rescue it before it falls into the hands of the KGB. And you will remember Sheena Easton’s performance of the theme song at the Oscars as the opposite of going back to basics. Easton arrived in a spaceship, then someone who was ostensibly James Bond (even though he was wearing an orange satin jumpsuit) pulled up in a Porsche, did some kung fu, fired a laser gun, blew up Easton’s spaceship and escaped on a second spaceship. The whole thing was awful, like something you might watch on North Korean television. That said, it was still better than Sam Smith’s performance a few years ago.

11. The Vice hair and makeup anti-speech (2019)

Possibly the least showy moment on this list, but easily the most excruciating. The Vice hair and makeup team didn’t seem to know each other when they arrived onstage to collect their award. One of them started a speech, then stopped as his colleague unfurled her own speech. She ordered him to read it. He refused. She started reading it. A third winner, holding her own speech, haltingly joined in. They started to get played off, but ploughed on nonetheless. As they collectively fumbled to decode some handwriting on one of the now several speeches, the camera cut away. They kept going. The stage lights switched off. They might still be there today for all anybody knows.

10. Kathleen York’s Crash crash (2006)

Lest anyone assume that the Oscars is all glitz and razzmatazz, please cast your mind back to Crash. A dopey, badly aimed, overcooked criticism of racism, the film is widely thought to be the worst to win best picture. But it is nothing compared to the musical performance that accompanied it. Kathleen York’s rendition of In the Deep should be remembered for many things. The backdrop of a literal burning car. The interpretive dancers acting out moments of agonisingly slow-motion multiracial torment. The way you started to pray for death after about 15 seconds of it. A classic.

9. The trial of John Travolta (2014 & 2015)

All John Travolta had to say was “Idina Menzel”. That was it. Instead, he butchered Menzel’s name beyond all recognition as he introduced a performance of Let It Go, mangling it into the unrecognisable “Adele Dazeem”. The mistake made an instant global laughing stock of Travolta, who was invited back the following year to make amends. And that started well, with Menzel introducing him as “Glom Gazingo”, but then – snatching defeat from the jaws of victory yet again – Travolta reacted by positioning himself uncomfortably close to her and stroking her chin in a way that suggested he was about to choke her.

8. Ray Parker Jr, forklift driver (1985)

Dom Deluise (centre) and Ray Parker Jr (on the forklift) performing Ghostbusters in 1985.
Dom DeLuise (centre) and Ray Parker Jr (on the forklift) performing Ghostbusters in 1985. Photograph: ABC Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television/Getty Images

The best thing about the Oscars in the 80s was how obviously the organisers didn’t care about the nominated films. Ghostbusters is a perfect case in point. Ray Parker Jr’s theme was nominated for best song in 1985, but his performance bore zero resemblance to anything even remotely connected to Ghostbusters. Three Ghostbusters appeared, but they were dressed in purple satin jumpsuits and appeared to be holding the same laser guns as Orange James Bond from two years previously. The ghosts clattered around to hokey xylophone runs. Poor Ray Parker Jr was forced to perform the entire song from inside a levitating forklift truck that he had spent more than a minute quietly manoeuvring into place at the start of his performance. Then at the end, Dom DeLuise appeared for no reason, dressed as what I think was supposed to be the Phantom of the Opera, and sort of banished the ghosts by blasting electricity through his fingertips at them. Nobody remembers how relentlessly batshit this performance was, and I want that to change.

7. Eminem rocks up for no reason (2020)

Aside from cameos, Eminem has only really appeared in one film, and that was 2002’s 8 Mile. Despite this, Eminem turned up at last year’s Oscars and sang a song from it. Why? To announce a sequel to 8 Mile? To celebrate an arbitrary-seeming anniversary? To make up for not performing at the Oscars when the film came out? Because he really, really wanted to be introduced by a clip from Deliverance for some reason? Either way, just to ramp up the awkwardness, the ceremony insisted on cutting away to reaction shots from people such as Billie Eilish (aggressively bored), Gal Gadot (dancing excruciatingly) and Martin Scorsese (possibly asleep).

6. Jenny Beavan’s walk of silence (2016)

Mad Max: Fury Road won six Oscars, which meant that it created a room full of resentful losers in 2016. And this might explain why, as Jenny Beavan walked down the aisle to collect her award for best costume design, she passed a succession of glowering celebrities – among them Tom McCarthy and Alejandro González Iñárritu – who wouldn’t clap her. It was an excruciatingly awkward moment, although one that did force Iñárritu to go public and tell everyone that he did actually clap her, which was ultimately beneficial for the news cycle.

5. Dick Poop (2015)

Now, this one didn’t happen during the ceremony itself, but it is still one of the best things of all time, so I’m going to include it. Imagine that you are famed cinematographer Dick Pope. Over the course of your three-decade career you’ve become known for adding a layer of sumptuous beauty to the films of Mike Leigh. Your work on Mr Turner is nothing short of a work of art. You watch the Oscar nominations show, more out of hope than expectation, and to your delight your name appears onscreen. This is more than just recognition by your peers. This is a career-changing moment. And then Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, accidentally calls you “Dick Poop”. Oh, the shame. The beautiful, beautiful shame.

4. David Niven’s streaker (1974)

Anyone can streak at the Oscars. Provided you are drunk and/or brave enough, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. What is much harder, however, is reacting to a streaker. And this is why David Niven is an Oscars legend. In truth, his presentation speech during the 1974 ceremony wasn’t anything special, teetering on the precipice of generic platitude, until a moustachioed man shot out on to the stage behind him, flicking the audience a peace sign. The crowd screamed in shock, the band launched into a weirdly inappropriate number and Niven was left onstage to pick up the pieces. “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?” was his impeccable response to the mayhem.

3. The ceremony under-runs (1959)

One of the reasons why nobody watches the Oscars any more is because it has become a hellish endurance ride that seems to last for about three days. This is why we all need to remember the 1959 ceremony, which ended with Jerry Lewis being forced to clamber onstage and vamp for his life for an extended period of time. He gave a little speech, made a couple of jokes and then conducted the orchestra while all the bemused winners slow-danced with each other. This is because, in 1959, the ceremony finished a full 20 minutes before it was supposed to and he had to fill time. Imagine that: an Oscars that was actually too short. Those people didn’t know they were born.

2. The La La Land/Moonlight mix-up (2017)

Perhaps the most famous Oscars cock-up of all time (until Anthony Hopkins is inevitably Zoom-bombed by hardcore pornography during his acceptance speech on Sunday) was the moment when a PricewaterhouseCoopers employee was so dazzled by his physical proximity to Emma Stone that he handed the wrong best picture winner to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who mistakenly announced that La La Land (and not eventual winner Moonlight) had won the biggest prize of the night. The waves of shock, confusion and hurt that crashed across the stage in that moment are, to this day, some of the most incredible in Oscars history.

1. Rob Lowe duets with Snow White (1989)

But not the most incredible moment, because that remains the baffling, harrowing, instantly iconic wither-up-and-die decision to pair Rob Lowe with Snow White for the 1989 Oscars’ opening number. Snow White began by gladhanding the celebrity attenders, who reacted with a mixture of bemused detachment and outright hostility, before regaling them with stories of the parties she had attended at the Coconut Grove. Then Merv Griffin sang I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts to some women with coconuts on their heads. And then – and then! – Rob Lowe turned up to perform a weirdly sexualised cover version of Proud Mary, with lyrics that had been specifically written to be about Walt Disney, in a voice that made him sound like Nick Knowles catching his scrotum on some barbed wire. May our children never forget the agony we once endured.

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