The 10 Worst Moments in Oscar History


Sunday night is Oscar night, you guys — are you as excited as we are? No? Rest assured, this year’s Academy Award ceremony will be… well, it will certainly be something! Perhaps it will be classy and modest, filled with entertainment and good cheer and subtle but self-deprecating wit. No, wait, I just remembered that Seth MacFarlane will be hosting, so scratch all that.

But no matter how wrong the Family Guy creator may be for the job (and he’s said as much himself, to his credit), he can take some solace in the fact that there is a long, rich history of terrible Oscar moments, so he’s really going to have to tank it to make an impression. We’ve assembled our ten favorite awkward, cringe-worthy, and generally awful Oscar moments after the jump.

James Franco and Anne Hathaway (2011)

With Oscar viewership falling and producers unable to pick a comedian host who is both funny and inoffensive to the Academy’s older members, some bright soul thought that hiring Franco and Hathaway, two of Hollywood’s hottest young actors, was the way to get the young people to watch. (It’s the kind of blatantly transparent play for buzz that always reminds us of that Saturday Night Live sketch where Frank Sinatra’s new album of tunes the young people will enjoy is called Frank Sings Tunes the Young People Will Enjoy. It’s also the thinking that got us Seth MacFarlane as an Oscar host, BUT I DIGRESS.) Over the course of the long and awkward evening, Franco and Hathaway exhibited an astonishing lack of chemistry, with the former seeming alternately bored or baked and the latter’s flailing attempts to overcompensate landing with a thud.

“A Fugue for Tinhorns” (1986)

Head-scratching musical numbers have always been a particular favorite for Oscar producers, who seem to like the razzle-dazzle show bizzy element but can’t quite figure out how to incorporate it into a celebration of an art form that doesn’t really make musicals anymore. What you end up with are train-wrecks like the opening of the ’86 awards, in which Mel Brooks fave Dom DeLuise, Pat “Mr. Miyagi” Morita, and Kojak star Telly Savalas sang “A Fugue for Tinhorns” from Guys and Dolls because… movies?!

(The number has been weirdly scrubbed from existence — you can’t even find a photo of the performance, much less video of it. So please enjoy the song as performed in Guys and Dolls.)

Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington (2002)

Look, we get it. Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington were pals from the Pelican Brief days, and when she presented the Best Actor prize in 2002 (as is the tradition, having won Best Actress herself the previous year), she was excited for him. He was electrifying in Training Day, and many saw the award for that change-of-pace performance as payback for losing the Malcolm X Best Actor trophy to Al Pacino back in 1993. But when she opened the envelope and announced “I love my life!” before calling his name, and when she all but tackled him on their way off-stage, well, it felt a little bit like somebody was trying to make it all about her.

Angelina’s Brotherly PDA (2000)

Angelina Jolie has so successfully made herself over as the stable Hollywood mom and humanitarian that it’s easy to forget her wild-woman tabloid-fodder days. They came to a head at the 2000 Oscar ceremony, in the not-quite-sisterly kisses she bestowed upon her brother, James Haven, and proclamations of affection for him during her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech (“I’m in shock, and I’m so in love with my brother right now!”). Their behavior got tongues a-wagging (ha ha), though she would later voice disappointment “that something so beautiful and pure could be turned into a circus.” Whatever you say, Angie!

“I’m the King of the World!” (1998)

Though we’ll still defend it, few big Oscar winners have experienced the kind of post-award backlash that hit James Cameron’s 1997 smash Titanic. There are plenty of explanations for it — most of them involving Celine Dion — but if we had to pick the moment when said backlash began, it was probably during Cameron’s acceptance speech for Best Director. “I’m the king of the world!” he announced, quoting the film’s most famous line (and, ultimately, most cringe-worthy scene), but it didn’t seem like a quote. He sounded like he meant it, and it was such a naked display of barely-masked ego and hubris that you could pretty much feel all of America groaning in unison.

Vanessa Redgrave gets political (1978)

Politics and Oscar have always made for rather uneasy bedfellows. Take, for example, the case of Vanessa Redgrave, who made two films in 1977: Julia, for which she won Best Supporting Actress, and The Palestinian, a pro-Palestine documentary that she produced and narrated. The film was the target of bombers and protestors, who picketed Redgrave at the ceremony. In her acceptance speech, Redgrave told Academy members they “should be very proud that in the last few weeks you’ve stood firm, and you have refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression.” Some of what came after “Zionist hoodlums” got lost in an array of loud boos; Network screenwriter and presenter Paddy Chayefsky voiced a more articulate response. “I would like to say that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal 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.” Oh, Paddy, if you only knew…

Michael Moore gets political (2003)

Well, they had to know what they were getting when they gave Michael Moore a microphone and a captive audience. When Moore won the Best Documentary Oscar for Bowling for Columbine in March 2003, on the eve of the American invasion of Iraq, he invited his fellow nominees to join him onstage, and announced, “We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man who’s sending us to war for fictitious reasons.” Just in case anyone was having trouble getting the message, he clarified: “We are against this war, Mr. Bush… Shame on you!” Moore’s comments were met with a mixture of boos and cheers from the attendees, which was to be expected; the speech (which, c’mon, was perhaps ill-timed but certainly not incorrect) was less embarrassing than Moore’s verbal gymnastics afterwards, offering up wild explanations for how no one was actually booing him, really.

Everybody gets political (1975)

Hearts and Minds was a lightning rod for controversy at the 1975 ceremony, and for once, the onstage political bloviating managed to piss off both sides of the political spectrum. Peter Davis’s powerful anti-Vietnam War film won the Best Documentary prize, and when co-producer Bert Schneider accepted the award, he also took the opportunity to read a “”Greetings of Friendship to all American People” telegram from Ambassador Dinh Ba Thi of, um, the Viet Cong. This infuriated the evening’s co-host, Bob Hope, who was already steamed that the film (which painted him in a rather unflattering light) had won. So he scrawled a response note and insisted his co-host, Frank Sinatra, read it on the air. Sinatra complied: “The Academy is saying, ‘We are not responsible for any political references made on the program, and we are sorry they had to take place this evening.’” But the Academy wasn’t saying that — Hope was, and though the Academy reportedly scolded him for speaking on their behalf, they still asked him back to host the 1978 telecast (it would be the last of his 19 hosting appearances).

Brando and Sacheen (1973)

But the most famously misplaced political speechifying in Oscar history came in 1973, when Marlon Brando won Best Actor for his iconic turn in The Godfather. It was a big comeback for the actor, who had alienated the suits with his peculiar choices, political activism, and general weirdness in the decade or so before Coppola came a-calling. While Brando may have been bankable again, he certainly wasn’t going to curb the other stuff; he not only didn’t come to the ceremony, but he sent a Native American activist who called herself Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse the award on his behalf, and read his 15-page statement on why he was turning it down (in protest of Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans, and the recent incident at Wounded Knee, South Dakota). Backstage, Littlefeather was told she’d be kicked out unless she kept her remarks to 60 seconds, which she improvised (reading the statement to press afterwards). Arguments persist to this day as to how legit Littlefeather (née Marie Louise Cruz) actually was, but this much is clear: after the 1973 ceremony, the Academy no longer allowed anyone other than an award’s presenter to accept a statue on behalf of an absent winner.

Snow White and Rob Lowe (1989)

The most notorious of all Academy Award telecasts, the one that still sends shivers down the spines of would-be Oscar producers, aired on March 29, 1989. It was produced by Allan Carr, who followed his one hit (Grease) with a string of flops (including the Village People epic Can’t Stop the Music). Carr’s big opening musical number was a humdinger: an endless (ten-plus minutes) nonsensical nightmare in which Snow White (played by an unknown young actress named Eileen Bowman) comes to Hollywood, sings her way through the Shrine Auditorium, and lands at an onstage replica of the Copacabana Club, where there is singing and dancing and a rather unfortunate duet with Rob Lowe (then trying to clean up his image after a sex tape scandal — what a trailblazer!). Lowe would eventually recover from the debacle; Bowman (who recently talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the incident) fled Los Angeles immediately, returning to her home of San Diego. Disney filed a lawsuit against the Academy for its unauthorized use of their version of Snow White (whoops). An open letter from 17 Hollywood stars — including Paul Newman, Julie Andrews, and Gregory Peck — proclaimed the telecast “an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry.” But not everyone was embarrassed; just this week, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody tweeted, “I remember watching the Rob Lowe/Snow White Oscar number live and thinking it was AWESOME.” However, she added a caveat: “I was 10.”