Oscars: 15 Most Memorable Moments

6:58 PM 2/9/2020

by Jillian Forstadt, Christy Piña, and Jordan Wilson

From powerful political speeches to historic wins, these are the most memorable moments from the 2020 Academy Awards.

On the culminating night of awards season, the names behind the year's biggest films gathered at the 2020 Academy Awards in Hollywood. Held at the the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, the 92nd annual awards show was not without some much-anticipated festivities and big surprises.

Continuing last year's hostless trend, the awards ceremonies kicked off with a song-and-dance tribute to the nominees featuring Janelle Monáe and Billy Porter. Comedians Steve Martin and Chris Rock then took to the stage to fill the night's monologue duties, with digs at the Iowa caucus app mishap and the lack of female directors nominated. 

Best picture winner Parasite swept the awards show. Writer-director Bong Joon Ho became the second director in Academy history to earn best director for a non-English language film. He also took home awards for best international feature and best original screenplay, making it the first Asian film to win the award.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's Brad Pitt accepted the award for best supporting actor, and Marriage Story's Laura Dern took home best supporting actress with a message about the climate crisis. 

Joker's Joaquin Phoenix also used his best actor acceptance speech to discuss the climate crisis and systemic inequality, calling on the audience to support each other. In the best actress category, Renée Zellweger won for her role as Judy Garland, to whom she dedicated her award.

Among the ceremony's dazzling presentations and performances were Idina Menzel's return to the Oscar stage to sing "Into the Unknown" from Frozen 2 alongside the actresses who voice Elsa from around the world, and two-time nominee Cynthia Erivo's rendition of "Stand Up" from Harriet.

From every empowering speech to the biggest wins, The Hollywood Reporter has rounded up all of Sunday night's standout moments.

Read on for the most memorable moments from the 2020 Oscars.  

  • 'Parasite' Wins and the Lights Shut Off

    When Parasite won best picture, the cast, producers and director Bong Joon Ho crowded the stage, eager to deliver their acceptance speeches. 

    However, not long after producer Kwak Sin-ae expressed her gratitude and respect for members of the Academy for choosing Parasite as best picture, the stage lights were shut off over the winners and the live feed cut back to presenter Jane Fonda, indicating that the show was over. 

    The audience immediately began to protest, gesturing and yelling to let the speeches continue. Fonda stayed still, not sure what to do herself.

    After several seconds, the lights went back on and producer Miky Lee was able to give her acceptance speech in which she thanked director Bong not only for the way he directs but for his "smile" and his "crazy hair." 

  • Joaquin Phoenix Calls For "Fighting Against Injustice"

    Upon accepting the award for best actor, Joaquin Phoenix used his platform to ask that those listening use "love and compassion" as guiding principles in the fight to change injust systems.

    "I think, whether we're talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we're talking about the fight against injustice," said the Joker star. "We're talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity." 

    He also brought attention to environmental degredation and the current climate crisis, saying that many in the room are guilty of "an egocentric worldview."

    "We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and when she gives birth, we steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable," the actor said. "Then, we take her milk, that's intended for her calf, and we put it in our coffee and our cereal, and I think we fear the idea of personal change because we think that we have to sacrifice something to give something up."

    The actor's speech at the 2020 BAFTA Awards went viral for calling out of the lack of diverse nominees and systemic social injustice. 

  • Surprise Eminem Performance Gets Standing Ovation

    Kevin Winter/Getty Images

    Lin-Manuel Miranda introduced a montage of movie songs, with clips from films strung together and the famous songs associated with those films playing underneath. 

    From Huey Lewis' "Power of Love" underscoring Back to the Future to "Dueling Banjos" from Deliverance, the montage included a range of music from films across the decades. But when the clip from 2002's Eight Mile began, Eminem's Oscar-winning best original song wasn't playing along with it. 

    But then a live band rose from beneath the stage, with Oscar-winner Eminem himself singing the title track of his film. Ceremony attendees bopped their heads and sang along with the lyrics, and when the song concluded he received a standing ovation.   

  • Janelle Monae Applauds Women Directors, Wishes Everyone "Happy Black History Month"

    Mark RALSTON / AFP

    Janelle Monae opened the 2020 Oscars with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood-inspired song and then transitioned to "Come Alive" with Billy Porter in a gold and red ensemble. Monae was clad in red cardigan, black pants and white button-down with a top hat that she placed on Beautiful Day star Tom Hanks' head.

    In the background, there were dancers dressed as Jokers, Little Women characters, Dolomite from Dolomite Is My Name and in army uniforms representing 1917 as flowers from Midsommar decorated the piano on stage.

    At the beginning of her performance, she gave a shout-out to women directors who made incredible films in 2019 and weren't recognized for them, a common theme throughout the night. "We celebrate women who directed great films," the actress-singer said.

    "Happy Black History Month," Monae added later in her performance. "I’m so happy to stand here as a black queer artist to tell this story."

  • 'Cats' Made an Appearance

    Cats co-stars Rebel Wilson and James Corden came onto the stage to present best visual effects at this year's Oscars, which went to 1917. The stars were decked out in head-to-toe cat costumes, with full faces of makeup, joking that nobody knows the importance of good visual effects as much as they do because of their work in the movie.

    Cats was on the Academy's shortlist for best visual effects.

    After the clips of the films nominated showed, the camera cut back to Wilson and Corden as they played with the microphone like two cats would.

  • Chris Rock and Steve Martin Take Shots at Iowa Caucuses, Homelessness

    Kevin Winter/Getty Images

    Former hosts Chris Rock and Steve Martin opened the show with a fun back-and-forth that openly criticized some Oscars snubs and even took aim at recent political snafus. 

    Martin acknowledged that there was "a big disaster" at the Oscars a couple of years ago, citing the 2017 initial reading of best picture as La La Land when the award was actually supposed to go to Moonlight.

    "That won't happen this year, because the Academy has switched to the new Iowa Caucus app!"  

    In what would become a running theme of the night, Martin brought up the lack of female directing nominees when he said he felt like "something was missing from the list (of directors) this year." Rock responded "Vaginas?" 

    The duo concluded their comments by acknowledging that when the Oscars began in 1929, there were no black acting nominees, but in 2020 there is one, which Martin called "amazing growth."  

  • Remembering Kobe Bryant

    Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

    The first Kobe Bryant tribute of the night came from the acceptance speech for best animated short film Hair Love. "This award is dedicated to Kobe Bryant. May we all have a second act as great as his was," director Matthew A. Cherry said.

    Meanwhile, filmmaker Spike Lee donned a purple suit embroidered with Bryant's Lakers uniform number, 24.

    The annual In Memoriam tribute opened with a picture of Bryant beside his quote: "Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep on rolling." Billie Eilish covered The Beatles' "Yesterday" for the segment. 

  • Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig Show Off Their Dramatic Acting Skills

    Presenting for best production design, the Saturday Night Live alumnae took the moment to show off their range beyond comedy.

    “We just know there are a lot of directors here tonight,” Wiig said.

    “We just wanted them to know,” Rudolph continued, “we do more than comedy.”

    The pair showcased everything from their dramatic acting chops to their singing abilities, nearly walking off the stage in rage, bursting into tears and breaking out in a medley of songs, from Madonna to Chris De Burgh, in between categories.

  • Brie Larson, Sigourney Weaver and Gal Gadot Are Starting a Fight Club

    "It is an absolute honor to stand beside my fellow superhero, Gal, and the woman who paved the way for us, Sigourney Weaver," Larson began the introduction for best original score, which went to Hildur Gudnadóttir for Joker.

    Gadot chimed in, adding that it was such an honor to be standing with Weaver, who then joked that after the show, the women were going to start a fight club.

    "Men are all invited, but no shirts allowed," Gadot said.

    "The winner will get a lifetime supply of deodorant, sushi and tequila," Larson continued.

    "The loser gets to answer questions from journalists about how it feels to be a woman in Hollywood," Gadot joked.

  • 'Parasite' Sweeps With Best Picture, Director and Screenplay Wins

    Bong Joon Ho
    Bong Joon Ho
    MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

    The Korean film took home best picture on Sunday night, along with four out of the five categories in which it was nominated. Parasite is the first best picture nomination and first win for a South Korean film and first non-English language best picture winner. 

    Bong Joon Ho, arguably the night's biggest winner, became the second director in Academy history to win best director for a non-English language film with his third win at the 2020 Oscars. 

    The Korean filmmaker thanked his fellow nominees, citing competitor Martin Scorsese as one of his filmmaking inspirations.

    "When I was in school, I studied Martin Scorsese's films," Bong said, leading a standing ovation for Scorsese. "Just to be nominated was a huge honor. I never thought I would win."

    Bong said that, if the Academy allowed, he would like to split the statue five ways with a "Texas chainsaw" to share with Scorsese, Tarantino, Mendes and Phillips.

    Earlier in the night, Bong made history with Oscar wins for best original screenplay and best international feature film.

    The social satire is the first nomination and first win of a South Korean film in the best international feature film category. Bong is also the first Asian nominee to win best original screenplay. 

    In his acceptance speech, Bong drew attention to the symbolic meaning of the category's recent name change. It was previously called best foreign language film.

    "I'm so happy to be its first recipient under the new name," Bong said to applause. "I applaud and support the new direction that this change symbolizes."

  • Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus Learn What Cinematography Is

    Prior to presenting 1917's Roger Deakins with the Oscar for best cinematography, presenters Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus delivered their own description for exactly what a cinematographer is supposed to do. 

    "Not only does the cinematographer prepare the meals for the crew and cast, it is also be the cinematographer who knocks on your trailer door to let you know that it is time to get to the set to create magic," Louis-Dreyfus said.

    "And it is the cinematographer and only the cinematographer who is waiting patiently for you in that golf cart to travel you to set," Ferrell added. 

    Ferrell then pretended to hear a message from an earpiece, and said that the role of cinematographer has "something to do with camera."  

    The two announced Deakins' win, then took to the stage again to announce best film editing.

    After Deakins delivered his acceptance speech Louis-Dreyfus said, "So that was a cinematographer, yes." 

  • Brad Pitt, Josh Gad and More Address Politics Onstage

    Upon winning best supporting actor, Brad Pitt used his short moment allotted to address the lack of witnesses during the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

    "They told me I have 45 seconds this year, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week," the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood star said.

    During Josh Gad's introduction to Idina Menzel's performance of a song from Frozen 2, the actor nodded to international distribution for the film: "Frozen 2, or as climate change deniers call it, 'Not Frozen 2,' has been dubbed in 45 countries around the world," he said. 

    Speaking about voiceover actors who dub movies internationally, he added, "Canadian Elsa is basically the same, but with healthcare." 

    During his opening monologue with Chris Rock, Steve Martin addressed both the famous best picture category mishap in 2017 and the Iowa Democratic caucus counting mishaps earlier this week.

    "They have guaranteed this will not happen this year because the Academy has switched to the new Iowa caucus app," Martin said.

  • Utkarsh Ambudkar Raps the Oscars Recap

    The Mindy Project and Pitch Perfect star Utkarsh Ambudkar took to the stage to recap the Oscars with a freestyle rap with Questlove.

    He started to recap the show "for a bunch of nominees that don't look like me." 

    "First up, Janelle let us know who we been coasting/Chris Rock dropping 'cuz he ain't hosting," he started off. "Mr. Pitt congrats on winning your trophy, now please make a sequel for World War Z."

    Ambudkar continued, rapping that Mindy Kaling was repping South Asians, Hair Love won best animation and how the audience heard an amazing singer. "Her name is Idina Menzel, Mr. Travolta," and the camera cut to Menzel as she broke out laughing. 

    He included that Parasite and Taika won for best screenplay (original and adapted, respectively) and said that In the Heights would win everything next year. 

    "That's how you recap a show in a rhyme, he concluded his rap. "Keep an open mind, I'm sure you'll find there's plenty of light for us all to shine." 

  • 'American Factory' Win

    MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

    The Obama-backed film American Factory took home the award for best documentary feature at the 2020 Oscars.

    Co-director Julia Reichert, who is undergoing chemotherapy for terminal cancer, began her speech by thanking the fellow nominees, "just being in the presence of our sister and brother documentarians who risked their lives making stories [and] bringing stories to us," she said.

    She pointed out that they've made movies about hospitals being bombed in Syria, about Brazil, about Macedonia.

    "We are so proud," she added. "We are inspired by you guys." The co-director ended her part of the speech by saying that things will get better when workers in the world unite. 

  • Hildur Gudnadóttir Calls Upon Creative Women Worldwide

    Icelandic composer Hildur Gudnadóttir was honored with the Oscar for best original score for her work on Joker, cementing her as the first woman to win in the category. 

    In her speech, Gudnadóttir made a plea for all creative women around the world. "To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music bubbling within, please speak up, we need to hear your voices," Gudnadóttir said.

    The win comes after taking home awards in the same category from the BAFTA, Critics Choice and Golden Globes.