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Oscars 2023: 24 Memorable Moments That Defined The Academy Awards

Awards season has gifted us all kinds of iconic moments over the years – but no ceremony is ever quite as eventful, or as star-studded, as the Oscars.

Unfortunately, not every instance of the Oscars making headlines is for the right reasons.

As we gear up for this year’s ceremony, here are 24 highs and lows that have defined the Oscars over the past century...

Will Smith slaps Chris Rock after the comedian joked about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair (2022)

For those who’ve been living under a rock for the past 12 months, here’s what went down at the 2022 Oscars.

Comedian Chris Rock presented one of the night’s big awards, during which he made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s buzzcut, comparing her to “GI Jane”.

Jada had previously spoken about her experiences of living with alopecia, which inspired her to shave her head.

Unimpressed with the comic’s remarks, Jada’s husband Will Smith walked up to the comedian and slapped him, urging Chris to “keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth” after returning to his seat.

What ensued was months of unescapable media furore and discourse, and although Will won his first ever Oscar just a few moments after the slap for his performance in the film King Richard, he eventually made the decision to resign from the Film Academy, and was later banned from the ceremoyn for a decade.

John Travolta struggles with Idina Menzel’s name (2014)

During the live broadcast in 2014, HuffPost fave John Travolta was recruited to welcome Frozen star Idina Menzel to the stage, so she could perform her character’s signature tune Let It Go.

Unfortunately, due to John’s apparent struggles reading from an autocue, he instead introduced “the wickedly talented, one and only Adele Dazeem” – a moment he’s still struggling to live down almost a decade later.

Jennifer Lawrence trips up the stairs while collecting her Oscar... (2013)

In a moment that saw the whole world holding its breath in unison, Jennifer Lawrence took a tumble as she went to accept her Best Actress prize, for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook.

After getting a standing ovation, she joked: “You guys are just standing up ’cos you feel bad that I fell, which is embarrassing, but thank you.”

...and then does the same thing a year later (2014)

A year later, Jennifer returned to the Oscars, where she was nominated again, this time for her role in American Hustle.

While she didn’t pull off the Oscars double, she did pull off the falling-over-at-the-Oscars double, which... is still something.

Sally Field gives a *very* passionate speech (1985)

“You like me, you really, really like me,” is an oft-quoted awards show line, but as it turns out, that’s not actually what Sally Field said.

“I want to say thank you to you,” she told the audience at the 1985 Oscars. “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect.

“The first time [I won an Oscar], I didn’t feel it. But this time I feel it. And I can’t deny the fact that you like me! Right now! You like me!”

What’s also often overlooked is the fact she did actually make the crowd laugh along with her speech, even if audiences at home were seemingly less impressed.

...and so does Gwyneth Paltrow (1999)

After appearing in around 20 films, Gwyneth finally picked up an Oscar in 1999, for her performance in Shakespeare In Love, and struggled to get her words out through her tears.

Interestingly, this would prove to be Gwyneth’s only Academy Award nomination (so far!), but at least she managed to get the Oscar on her first try.

While Olivia Colman just has everyone howling  with her speech (2019)

It’s fair to say Olivia Colman had not been expecting to beat her peers in the Best Actress category that year, judging from that acceptance speech – which showcased all of her signature charm and a fan-girl moment over Lady Gaga.

Let’s talk about this bizarre opening number (1989)

The 1989 Academy Awards went down in the history books for cooking up a chaotic opening number that felt like a bit of a fever dream. The performance saw Rob Lowe duetting with Snow White, as well as featuring appearances from stars as varied as Lily Tomlin and Vincent Price.

Without a host, the routine served in place of an opening monologue, but it went down so badly it would be a full 30 years before the Oscars would go ahead without a host.

Fortunately, things went a lot more smoothly in 2019, with producers even choosing to forego a host again the following two years.

Kermit The Frog brings the house down (1980)

After Miss Piggy warmed up the crowd (seriously, what an intro), there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Kermit The Frog performed Rainbow Connection in 1980.

The Muppet Movie’s opening number had been nominated for Best Original Song, but lost out to It Goes Like It Goes from Norma Rae, a decision which was rubbished by many critics at the time.

Eventually, Kermit and co finally won an Oscar, although it took more than 40 years, when Man Or Muppet scooped Best Original Song in 2011.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper perform Shallow (2019)

It was the performance the world had been waiting for when Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga finally sang Shallow from the A Star Is Born soundtrack together.

The pair had actually only performed the track live together once prior to the Oscars (when Bradley was a surprise guest at one of Gaga’s Las Vegas shows), but you wouldn’t know that from the sheer chemistry between the two of them while they sang to one another.

Angelina Jolie and brother James Haven make an entrance (2000)

Back in 2000, Angelina won her first Oscar for her role in the film adaptation of Girl, Interrupted.

Her win was somewhat overshadowed on the night by her red carpet appearance with brother James Haven, who she kissed on the lips and declared she was “so in love with”.

Years later, she admitted she was “disappointed” with the “circus” that surrounded the incident, explaining that she and James had always relied on one another as the children of divorced parents.

Sacha Baron Cohen (as The Dictator) covers Ryan Seacrest in “ashes” (2012)

Yeah, Seacrest really wasn’t loving this, was he?

Hattie McDaniel makes history with her Oscars win (1940)

Gone With The Wind star Hattie McDaniel’s Best Supporting Actress win at the 12th Academy Awards was a particularly important one, as she became the first African American performer to take home an Oscar.

While this is often referred to as a progressive moment in Oscars history, it should be noted that Hattie’s win came at a time when segregation was still in place. This meant she was not permitted to sit with her Gone With The Wind co-stars during the ceremony, with film producer David O. Selznick having to call in a favour for her to be allowed to attend at all.

Precious actor Mo’nique paid homage to Hattie McDaniel when she picked up the same award 70 years later, sporting a similar ensemble to the Gone With The Wind star.

Halle Berry becomes the first Black woman to win Best Actress (2002)

“This moment is so much bigger than me,” Halle Berry began in her acceptance speech, before listing off the names of the Black women in the acting industry who had come before her, including Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll, as well as her peers, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett and Vivica Fox.

She said she hoped her win might represent “a chance” for “every nameless, faceless woman of colour”.

Sadly, Halle remains the only woman of colour to have been named Best Actress, lamenting 15 years later that she felt the win “meant nothing”, as so little had changed in the time that followed.

In 2023, Michelle Yeoh became a favourite to win Best Actress thanks to her performance in Everything Everywhere All At Once, which would make her only the second woman of colour – and first actress of Asian heritage – to take home the award.

Halle’s victory came 39 years after Sidney Poitier became the first Black winner in the Best Actor category. His future successors have included Forest Whitaker, Jamie Foxx and Denzel Washington.

Kathryn Bigelow becomes the first woman to win Best Director (2010)

Kathryn’s efforts at the helm of The Hurt Locker, which also landed Best Picture that year, made her the only woman to have won in the Best Director category at that time.

In the years that have followed, only four women – Greta Gerwig, Chloé Zhao, Emerald Fennell and Jane Campion – have been nominated in this category.

Chloé became the second woman, and first woman of colour, to accept the accolade in 2021, while Jane became the third the following year. However, no women at all were recognised in the category in 2023.

Marlon Brando declines to turn up to collect his Oscar (1973)

Marlon Brando’s win for The Godfather was, without doubt, a Big Deal, so when he refused to show up to collect his award, it raised a lot of eyebrows.

Instead, the acting legend had Native American performer Sacheen Littlefeather collect the award on his behalf, explaining that he wasn’t present in protest of Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans on the big screen.

Björk debuts the most iconic dress in Oscars history (2001)

Well, she was never going to pass by unnoticed, was she?

Björk was nominated for her first Oscar in 2001, for her contribution to the Dancer In The Dark soundtrack, and made headlines for her swan-inspired dress, which included dropping eggs along the red carpet.

Wait, did someone say “iconic Oscars dress”? (2019)

We love when a star really knows how to turn heads, and that’s exactly what Pose actor Billy Porter did on the red carpet in 2019.

On the subject of his much-discussed tuxedo dress, Billy told Vogue that year: “We wanted to play between the masculine and the feminine. This look was interesting because it’s not drag. I’m not a drag queen, I’m a man in a dress.

“My aunt Dorothy used to always say, ‘Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.’ That’s why I look good every time I leave the house. I want to run shit. From this [Oscars] moment, I want people to understand that you don’t have to understand or even agree with other people’s authenticity or truths, but we must all respect each other.

“People are going to be really uncomfortable with my Black ass in a ball gown—but it’s not anybody’s business but mine.”

Angelina Jolie leg-bombs for her life (2012)

In hindsight, the reaction to Angelina Jolie’s so-called “leg-bomb” might have been a little OTT.

Back in 2012, though, her errant right leg really felt like a moment, inspiring countless memes in those halcyon early days of Twitter.

Remember the Oscars selfie? (2014)

There’s Angelina again, this time in a huge selfie with a star-studded cast including Meryl Streep, Lupita Nyong’o, Bradley Cooper and Jared Leto (and yes, sadly that is Kevin Spacey slap-bang in the middle).

The photo – shared on host Ellen Degeneres’ Twitter page – quickly broke records as the most retweeted image in the site’s history, beating an image previously shared by then-President Barack Obama.

Remember, even the word “selfie” was quite a new thing back in 2014, let alone the act of taking a group shot like this, so while the furore around this photo might seem a bit silly almost a decade later, we promise it genuinely was a big deal at the time.

An actual streaker storms the stage (1974)

In 2001, this unexpected shocker was voted the “most memorable” moment in Oscars history.

We’re particularly fond of host David Niven’s quick-thinking response, as he declared: “The only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings.”

Sam Smith gets their wires a little crossed (2016)

British singer-songwriter Sam Smith made a huge blunder during their Academy Awards acceptance speech, erroneously describing themself as the “first openly gay man to win an Oscar” (they came out as non-binary a few years later).

Sam’s comments sparked a huge backlash, particularly from members of the LGBTQ+ community, including past Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.

Many at the time called for the star to learn their LGBTQ+ history before speaking out on such a public platform – and to Sam’s credit, they’ve since proved they have done their homework on queer trailblazers.

Brie Larson refuses to applaud for Best Actor winner Casey Affleck (2017)

Many picked up on the fact that when presenting Casey Affleck with his Oscar in 2017, Brie Larson did not applaud for the actor, which many took as a response to the accusations of workplace sexual harassment that he’d faced years earlier.

She later told Vanity Fair: “I think that whatever it was that I did onstage kind of spoke for itself. I’ve said all that I have to say on that topic.”

All that confusion over who won Best Picture (2017)

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t La La Land.

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