- The Best and Worst Moments of the 2020 Oscars
- Best: Janelle Monáe’s subversive energy
- Worst: Chaos reigned
- Best: Chaos reigned
- Best: Bong Joon-Ho’s delightful presence onstage
- Best: Global focus
- Best: Comedic bits
- Most Rambling But Heartfelt: Joaquin Phoenix’s Speech
- The 20 most awkward Oscars moments – ranked
- 19. Sacheen Littlefeather (1973)
- 18. Jennifer Lawrence (2013)
- 17. Michael Moore gets booed (2003)
- 16. Paddy Chayefsky v Vanessa Redgrave (1978)
- 15. We saw your boobs (2013)
- 14. James Franco’s Drag Race (2011)
- 13. Adrien Brody (2003)
- 12. Sheena Easton meets James Bond in space (1982)
- 11. The Vice hair and makeup anti-speech (2019)
- 10. Kathleen York’s Crash crash (2006)
- 9. The trial of John Travolta (2014 & 2015)
- 8. Ray Parker Jr, forklift driver (1985)
- 7. Eminem rocks up for no reason (2020)
- 6. Jenny Beavan’s walk of silence (2016)
- 5. Dick Poop (2015)
- 4. David Niven’s streaker (1974)
- 3. The ceremony under-runs (1959)
- 2. The La La Land/Moonlight mix-up (2017)
- 1. Rob Lowe duets with Snow White (1989)
The Best and Worst Moments of the 2020 Oscars
Just any great film, the 92nd Annual Academy Awards saved its best and biggest twist for the end.
Parasite, the Korean class warfare thriller, pulled out a stunning upset over 1917, sending the crowd into euphoric disbelief.
The win capped off a frenzied and unpredictable night that, while filled with questionable decision-making, showed that the Academy Awards might genuinely be making a concerted effort to change.
The awards show stretched three and a half hours; it was, at various points, perplexing, inspiring, hilarious. These were the standout moments of the night.
Best: Janelle Monáe’s subversive energy
It wouldn’t be surprising if Academy president David Rubin—sarcastically referred to as “Mr.
Excitement” by Tom Hanks during in the broadcast—got a little nervous when Janelle Monáe, after politely tiptoeing through a Mister Rogers impersonation, exploded into a new version of her jittery 2010 song “Come Alive.
” Monáe is a consummate professional, but she’s not your affable hosts of yesteryear: she injected the show with a chaotic and subversive energy, delivering a performance that would be more at home at the freewheeling, flamboyant Tonys.
She referenced #OscarsSoWhite, proudly declared herself a queer black woman, and screamed “come alive” over and over as if casting a spell. But while Monáe was electric, the number’s costumes signaled the beginning of a night of several questionable choices.
Monáe herself was dressed as the May Queen from Midsommar; a critically acclaimed movie that was snubbed by the Oscars completely. She was flanked by dancers who wore outfits from Dolemite Is My Name, Us, and Queen & Slim—all beloved black movies that, again, were also ignored.
Drawing attention to these non-nominees might have been an attempt at self-awareness—but it mostly just amounted to an epic self-own.
Worst: Chaos reigned
While the Oscars were also hostless last year, it really felt this time there was no one in charge.
Award winners were allowed to drone on for minutes, with the producers seemingly too meek to try to play anyone off—except when the entire Parasite team took the stage to collect the Best Picture trophy.
Awards presenters showed up in odd places around the theater: poor George McKay (1917) was banished all the way to the balcony. Some performers, Randy Newman and Elton John, weren’t introduced at all.
And sometimes even presenters got presented: Lin-Manuel Miranda, for instance, got a full WWE-style introduction from Anthony Ramos, in order to…introduce a montage. In a shameless bit of ABC cross-promotion, the Connors showed up to crack some stale jokes. Chris Rock and Steve Martin yelled “vaginas!” in unison. A cameraman literally lost control of his camera while panning over Colin Jost.
Best: Chaos reigned
But because there was no consistency or thematic cohesion, the show actually became weirdly much more thrilling: it seemed at any point, anything could happen. The show was a hot mess, with the emphasis on hot.
Utkarsh Ambudkar (Brittany Runs a Marathon) delivered a freestyle rap, and was followed by Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus excoriating editors. Rebel Wilson and James Corden batted a microphone stand back and forth for 10 seconds in full Cats costuming and makeup.
Eminem showed up to perform “Lose Yourself,” an 18-year-old song, in full, which was bewildering but resulted in a ton of great reaction shots. While not much of it made sense, the show followed Monáe’s command, and came fully alive.
And the maximalist, helter-skelter tone only made Parasite’s fourth-hour upset even more climactic.
Best: Bong Joon-Ho’s delightful presence onstage
For at least one rainy night, the biggest star in Hollywood was a 50-year-old filmmaker born almost 10,000 miles away.
Bong Joon-Ho, the director of Parasite, made four trips to the Oscars stage, first for more expected wins (Best Original Screenplay, Best International Film) and then unexpected ones (Best Director, Best Picture).
Over his decades in the film industry, Bong has shown himself to be a master of wit, comedic timing and suspense—and all of his skills were on display on Sunday.
He delivered a heartfelt tribute to Martin Scorsese, acknowledged the historic nature of his win—as the first Korean to ever win an Oscar—and cracked two jokes about how much he would drink after the show. He even created an instant meme, when he gazed at his Oscar and chuckled to himself with gleeful delight.
Best: Global focus
It wasn’t just Parasite’s Best Picture win that showed the Oscars might actually be opening up to the world.
The Academy put an emphasis on internationalism several times throughout the night—including in a pre-taped segment about documentary films, which included Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg, and a speech by Penelope Cruz, who said that foreign films “open a doorway into our minds and hearts.” And when Idina Menzel arrived onstage to sing her nominated song from Frozen 2, “Into the Unknown,” she didn’t sing it alone—she was joined by the other Elsas who had sung the song for the movie’s many non-English versions. The performance acknowledged that for many around the world, Menzel’s version is not the definitive one—and that the unknown for one person may just be someone else’s home.
Best: Comedic bits
Presenting awards is a tough gig for comedians, who are often asked to build a rapport with the crowd, deliver pinpoint zingers and pivot to the nominees all within 30 seconds or so.
But this year, the Academy ceded control to some of the country’s best comedians, letting them ease into bits and stretch them out.
Presenting the Oscar for costume design, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig gave a masterclass in overacting before singing a breakneck mashup of songs about fashion—which was reminiscent of some of Wiig’s best work on “Weekend Update.
” Chris Rock and Steve Martin pinballed off each other with their own idiosyncratic sensibilities, with each landing hysterical blows, including Rock’s terse punchline about Jeff Bezos: “Bezos write a check and the bank bounce.” Tom Hanks landed a great roast of Colin Jost. And Keanu Reeves and Diane Keaton got plenty of time to flirt with each other—and the room basked in their undeniable chemistry.
Most Rambling But Heartfelt: Joaquin Phoenix’s Speech
Joaquin Phoenix did not thank a single person in his three-and-a-half minutes onstage after winning Best Actor for Joker.
Instead, he used his platform to deliver a speech that was both wide in scope and deeply personal: he tackled injustice, animal cruelty, cancel culture, egotism, and the message of his brother River, who died in 1993. “We believe that we’re the center of the universe,” he said.
“We go into the natural world and we plunder it for its resources. We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.
” It prompted a lot of tweets about alternatives to cow’s milk, and it was a startling and affecting reprieve from a night that too often descends into laundry lists of names.
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The 20 most awkward Oscars moments – ranked
Nobody has ever accepted an award 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 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 .
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 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 an aggressive kiss on her lips without her agreement. Quite telling are the cutaways during the kiss; lots of male 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, 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. 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 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 Nick Knowles catching his scrotum on some barbed wire. May our children never forget the agony we once endured.
This article was amended on 22 April 2021 to clarify the Adrien Brody entry.
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