We’re now just three days away from the most ballyhooed extravaganza in all of showbiz. Yes, the 86th Academy Awards will be beamed in front of (an alleged) one billion eyeballs Sunday night. Stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, and Cate Blanchett will light up the red carpet. The E! network will implement cutting-edge technology like the “mani cam” and their insane GlamCam 360. Ryan Seacrest will be there chatting everyone up—and have his security scanning the perimeter for any sign of Sacha Baron Cohen. And Jennifer Lawrence will, in all likelihood, be her usual, wacky, lovable self.
But there may also be craziness, because when you give a gaggle of self-important movie stars a microphone that big, well, they tend to go a little mad sometimes. There’s a storied history of insanity at the Academy Awards. Who can forget Rob Lowe’s what the f--k? duet with Snow White, or the artist’s “shortcomings” seen ‘round the world? Without further ado, let’s revisit the most WTF moments in Oscar history.
Marlow: We’ve already discussed the most egregious Oscar winners, so let’s move on to the craziest, most mind-boggling moments in Academy Awards history—a vast reservoir of weirdness if there ever was one. The first incident that comes to mind went down a bit before our time, but we’ve all heard the stories and seen the tape. Forty years ago at the ‘74 ceremony, Robert Opel, a photographer, art gallerist, and LGBT activist, streaked across the Oscar stage flashing a peace sign just as David Niven was introducing Elizabeth Taylor. Niven, ever the saucy Brit, took one look at the mustachioed intruder, turned back to the audience, and quipped, “Well, ladies and gentleman, that was almost bound to happen. But 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?” Many believed the flasher was a stunt orchestrated by the show’s producer, Jack Haley, Jr., but nothing’s been proven. In the aftermath, Opel became a pseudo-celebrity of sorts, even holding his own press conference following the ceremony. I still prefer “Soy Bomb,” Michael Portnoy’s bizarre interpretive dancer character who stage-crashed Bob Dylan’s performance at the ’98 Grammys, but Opel’s move was pretty damn impressive.
Kevin: I’ll take your streaker and raise you a Rob Lowe singing a duet of “Proud Mary” with a woman dressed as Snow White. Which sight was more offensive? Who can say. The 1989 calamity and now infamous production number is the epitome of a WTF moment, though it’s a delight to revisit now, to bask in its awfulness while pondering the question, “What human with two brain cells green-lighted this?” (The actress who played Snow White recently broke her silence. The damned thing ruined her life.)
But let’s not make this all negative, right? Not all Academy production numbers are disastrous. (Most are! But not all!) In recent years there’s been two truly great musical performances: the tour de force by Hugh Jackman, in which he sang his way through the year’s Best Picture nominees with admirable gusto (you trying making Frost/Nixon into a Broadway-style show tune), sweeping Anne Hathaway up for a surprise—and impressive cameo. And then there was the Dreamgirls medley in 2007: one performed in the film by Jennifer Hudson, one by Beyoncé, and one by Broadway star Anika Noni Rose. Amid reports of the stars feuding with each other, the three performed the songs together, creating this explosive musical supernova of star power and vocal talent that was astonishing to watch and listen to. Beyoncé > Rob Lowe.
Marlow: Beyoncé > All Other Earthlings. As much as I love the Rob Lowe Oscar number, I prefer his outrageous, sweaty, wildly gesticulating saxophone performance in St. Elmo’s Fire (while clad in a yellow tank and black headband). One of the most cringe-worthy moments was host David Letterman’s “joke” at the ’95 ceremony, “introducing” Oprah to actress Uma Thurman with, “Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah.” It landed with a thud, and not only did Letterman never recover from the gaffe, but it allegedly sparked a decade-long feud between the late night and day time hosts, with both refusing to appear in the other’s show (they later buried the hatchet). And, of course, there was Marlon Brando’s acceptance speech for winning Best Actor in ’73, wherein the actor, who had been protesting the Oscars due to the Academy’s treatment of Native Americans, sent up “Sacheen Littlefeather,” a Native American clad in Apache attire, to accept the award on his behalf. “[Brando] very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” she said. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry—excuse me—and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.” She said some more gibberish, and then refused the statuette from presenter Roger Moore. It was later revealed that she was a half-Apache actress/activist born Maria Cruz, and the incident led the Academy to ban any proxy speeches from future ceremonies, and Clint Eastwood wondered later that night if the Best Picture award should be accepted “on behalf of all the cowboys shot in John Ford westerns over the years.”
Kevin: Speeches! My favorite part of the Oscars. I love the speeches when they are rambling, disoriented, and completely nonsensical, like when Melissa Leo, the original Jacqueline Bissett, won Best Supporting Actress for The Fighter. I love it when they’re brimming with such unbridled emotion that you can almost see the winners’ hearts leaping out of their chests, like when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting or when Halle Berry won Best Actress for Monster’s Ball. I love it, of course, when they’re quippy and quotable—“You like me!”; “Hello, gorgeous!”; etc.
Mostly, though, I love it when they cry. Because then I cry. We all cry together. We all cried together when Tom Hanks talked about heaven being populated by angels after his Philadelphia victory. We sobbed in unison when Meryl Streep could barely talk about her husband without becoming visibly verklempt and touched. We wept when Robin Williams, with such warmth and wit, thanked his father, when Gwyneth Paltrow paid tribute to her late cousin, and when Marion Cotillard confirmed that there “are some angels in this city” in Hollywood. Maybe we just have a thing about crying when angels are invoked?
Marlow: You’re such a softie … and Marion Cotillard is a goddess. But alas, I digress. I loved that Melissa Leo’s “CONSIDER [ME]” Oscar ads panned out, though I’m still not sure how this doesn’t break Academy rules. American Hustle II should star Leo just reenacting her entire Academy Award press tour for The Fighter. But ah, the crazy speeches. So much wackiness. How about Vanessa Redgrave’s rant against the “Zionist hoodlums” while accepting her Best Actress Oscar for Julia at the ’77 ceremony, to which Network filmmaker Paddy Chayefsky famously responded later that evening: “I'm sick and tired of people exploiting the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal propaganda.” Or James Cameron’s “I’m the king of the world” vom-fest after winning Best Director for Titanic. Or Angelina Jolie’s generally strange behavior at the ’99 Oscars where she, dressed like Elvira, couldn’t stop kissing her separated-at-birth brother on the lips on the red carpet, before saying during her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech that she “is so in love with my brother right now.” Also, at the ’95 ceremony, which pitted Martin Landau’s turn as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood against Samuel L. Jackson’s iconic portrayal of gheri-curled hitman Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction, the latter mouthing the words “Aww shit” after losing to Landau.
Kevin: Shh. I have blocked out the Angelina Jolie as a vampiress-possibly-into-incest stage. She is a regal, flawless humanitarian queen with cheekbones that could slice steaks, and shall be remembered as nothing less. (OK, I’ll give you that wacky gothic get up … which was almost as wacky as Gwyneth Paltrow’s braless gothic McQueen getup in 2002 … which was almost as wacky as Demi Moore’s 1989 mullet dress … which was almost as wacky as Björk's swan dress. We could really just go down a rabbit hole of WTF Oscar dresses.)
Marlow: I’m obsessed with Björk's swan dress. And MadTV’s Miss Swan. And Black Swan. Maybe I’m just into swans.
Kevin: But if I have to choose two truly weird Oscar moments to wrap up my bit of this conversation with, they’re both going to be musical performances. I’m tempted to name one of those ridiculous Debbie Allen interpretive dance sequences, but secretly I loved those. (C’mon, you did, too.) Instead I’m going to say that Three 6 Mafia’s win and performance of “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” in 2006 was a delight, not because the group didn’t deserve the victory or that the performance was off in any way. Just because it’s so much fun to imagine Tommy Lee Jones and Sophia Loren sitting in the Oscars audience while a group named Three 6 Mafia sing a song about pimps.
My concluding moment, though, is going to be the 1979 performance of “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone, who was joined on stage by a deaf children’s choir performing sign language. Only some of the children were not deaf. And they definitely did not know sign language, at least not well. It was awkward, mildly offensive Oscar bliss.
Marlow: Oh, Three 6 Mafia … their debacle of an MTV reality series in the wake of their Oscar win, Adventures in Hollyhood, will always hold a special place in my heart. One of the great “this is awkward…” moments in recent memory was when Chris Rock ragged on the ubiquitousness of Jude Law at the ’05 ceremony, saying, “If you want Tom Cruise and all you can get is Jude Law, wait!” followed by Sean Penn’s humorless response later in the ceremony: “I just want to answer our host’s question about who Jude Law is—he’s one of our finest actors.” But back to the musical performances. Hopefully, this year will be devoid of any pseudo-deaf people, or fake-blind Japanese composers, or rants against the president (I’m looking at you, Michael Moore), or Rob Lowe musical numbers. Actually, scratch that. Would love to see all those things—preferably at the same time.