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The Academy Awards is Hollywood’s biggest event of every year, highlighted by the presence of many of the industry’s most famous faces in one place, and subjected to moments of triumph, hilarity and heartbreak, with hundreds of millions watching around the world and history on the line.
As someone who has been obsessed with all things Oscars since I was a teenager, it has been one of the great joys and privileges of my career to sit in the audience at every Oscars ceremony that has taken place since I joined The Hollywood Reporter as its awards columnist in mid-2011. Indeed, I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to be there that — hand to God — I have never missed a moment of the ceremony to visit the bar or bathroom, as most people do at one time or another over the course of the long show. To me, the outcome of every category is important, and every moment has the potential to turn into something that people will discuss for generations.
On that basis, and with the 2010s coming to an end next week, I decided to make a list of what I regard as the most memorable Oscar moments of the decade. It was not easy to winnow down the list of options to just 10, and it pains me to leave off some — from host Seth MacFarlane‘s controversial opening number “We Saw Your Boobs”; to the insane Kanye/Taylor-like interruption of the acceptance speech being given by the first black director to ever win an Oscar, Roger Ross Williams; to John Travolta butchering Idina Menzel‘s name; to Meryl Streep‘s unexpected third Oscar win (“Her? Again?!”); to sound mixer Kevin O’Connell‘s first Oscar win on his 21st nomination; to Spike Lee‘s long-overdue moment in the sun.
But cuts had to be made, and these are the 10 left standing…
* * *
10. “No BS, we have a tie!” (2013)
The presentation of the sound editing Oscar is not something that people tend to remember, but those of us who saw it at the 85th Oscars won’t forget it. Mark Wahlberg (who I had bumped into at Ralph’s earlier that afternoon) and a CGI-version of his titular Ted costar (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) came out to handle the honors, and, following some politically incorrect banter, Wahlberg opened the envelope and exclaimed, “We have a tie! No BS, we have a tie!” Wahlberg then announced the individual behind Zero Dark Thirty, Paul N.J. Ottosson, who gave an acceptance speech, and then announced the team behind Skyfall, Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers, who gave another acceptance speech. Ottosson subsequently told reporters that he had verbalized his prediction of a tie shortly before it came to fruition. It was only the sixth tie in Oscars history, and the first in 18 years.
9. Jack and Michelle (2013)
At the end of the 85th Oscars, Jack Nicholson came on stage, carrying an envelope, presumably to handle the presentation of the best picture Oscar, just as he had done on seven prior occasions. (His total of eight best picture presentations are twice as many as anyone else’s — Audrey Hepburn and Warren Beatty handled four each.) In this case, though, he had some help. After noting that, “Traditionally, the best picture award is presented solo,” he introduced “live, from the White House, the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.” The audience went wild as Obama, flanked by uniformed service men and women, appeared via a satellite feed. After Nicholson read the nominees, he asked, “Mrs. Obama, do you have your envelope?” She was handed it by a PwC accountant and declared, “The Oscar goes to…Argo!” It was the first and only time in Oscars history that an envelope containing the winner was opened at a location other than that year’s officially designated Oscar ceremony site or sites (although the presentation of the best actor Oscar 59 years earlier came close).
8. Steamy “Shallow” (2019)
Heading in to the last Oscars ceremony of the decade, the 91st, viewers had become accustomed to seeing Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga on the telecast — within the 2010s, he had previously received acting noms at three different ceremonies (for Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and American Sniper) and she had wowed audiences with a musical tribute to Julie Andrews in 2015 and a performance of her nominated song “Til It Happens to You” (introduced by Vice President Joe Biden) in 2016. On this night, though, both were acting nominees for A Star Is Born, which Cooper directed, and Gaga was nominated for best original song as one of the writers of the signature tune that they performed together in that film, “Shallow.” Many wondered if Cooper, who is not a professional singer, would join Gaga for a performance of the song — and did he ever. After a piano was set up and mood lighting was established, the two walked arm-in-arm from their front-row seats up to the stage and delivered a steamy rendition that left many wondering if they were actually an item. Both denied it, but it was hard to ignore that Gaga and her fiancee had broken up less than a week before, and Cooper and his girlfriend of four years would break up soon thereafter.
7. Leo, finally (2016)
Ever since 1998, when Titanic won a boatload of Oscars but its male lead wasn’t even nominated, many wondered if the Academy had a problem with Leonardo DiCaprio. Granted, he received nominations — for 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, 2004’s The Aviator, 2006’s Blood Diamond and 2014’s The Wolf of Wall Street. But it wasn’t until the night of the 88th Oscars, at which DiCaprio was nominated for his grueling performance in The Revenant, that he finally got his moment in the sun. The announcement of his name provoked a huge and long standing ovation — he was, after all, not destined to join the likes of Cary Grant, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole in the club of great actors who never won a competitive Oscar — and he gave a speech befitting the occasion.
6. J-Law Trips (2013)
It was a Cinderella moment — with a twist. Jennifer Lawrence was awarded the best actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, which, along with another 2012 film, The Hunger Games, had turned the stunning but “relatable” 22-year-old into a star. However, as she ascended the podium, she tripped on her massive dress — something that Barbra Streisand had also done when she was en route to pick up her best actress Oscar 45 years earlier — and momentarily stayed down on the steps of the Oscars before rebounding (as Hugh Jackman gallantly rushed to her aid) and telling the audience, which was giving her a standing ovation, “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell, and that’s really embarrassing, but thank you.” Lawrence, who has since developed a habit of tripping in public, went on to thank a lot of other people — but forgot to thank the distributor of her film and chief backer of its awards campaign, Harvey Weinstein, something about which she has subsequently said she is very happy.
5. The selfie seen ’round the world (2014)
It is only fitting that in the middle of a decade in which the smartphone ushered in the era of the “selfie,” a selfie factored prominently into the 86th Oscars. Telecast sponsor Samsung, we later learned, had purchased a product-placement sponsorship of the show that was supposed to get it a selfie taken by host Ellen DeGeneres with nominee Meryl Streep. In the end, though, DeGeneres, stating that she hoped to set a new record for most retweets of a selfie, gave Samsung much more than it bargained for, welcoming Bradley Cooper, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Channing Tatum, Lupita Nyong’o, Lupita’s brother Peter Nyong’o and yes, Kevin Spacey, into the picture, as well (which Cooper snapped). Twitter was so bombarded that it briefly crashed, and within just 35 minutes the photo had overtaken the record for most retweeted photo, which was until then held by an election night photo of Michelle and Barack Obama (778,000). In the end, the Oscar selfie wound up with some 3.4 million retweets.
4. Touring the Oscars (2017)
First-time host Jimmy Kimmel crafted a viral moment for the ages by coordinating with a Hollywood tour bus to surprise a bunch of Hollywood tourists by walking them right into the 89th Oscars — after the audience in the darkened theater yelled, “Mahershala!” The first in line was one Gary Alan Coe, aka “Gary from Chicago,” who, accompanied by his fiancee, kissed the hands of a number of A-listers in the front row, and was then “married” by his fiancee’s favorite of them all, Denzel Washington. He subsequently became the topic of tabloid headlines when it was revealed that he had been released from prison just three days earlier after serving 20 years under California’s controversial three-strikes law — one strike for an attempted rape decades earlier. “It was horrible,” Coe told me a year later when I asked him about the media storm. “I didn’t ask to be put on the Oscars. I was minding my own business, walking down the street. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy — that’s America for you.'” He added, “And how about the way it’s come down? Look what happened to Harvey Weinstein! Come to find out that the people up in really high places are the ones we should’ve been watching, and not some poor little black guy that’s been locked away in prison for the last 20 years!”
3. A Close loss (2019)
The biggest acting Oscar upset of the decade — even bigger than Bridge of Spies‘ Mark Rylance beating Creed‘s Sylvester Stallone or The Iron Lady‘s Meryl Streep topping The Help‘s Viola Davis — was The Favourite‘s Olivia Colman blindsiding The Wife‘s Glenn Close, the 71-year-old who was Oscar-nominated for the seventh time and expected by virtually every knowledgeable pundit to win for the first. (No living performer had been nominated more times without yet winning.) After Frances McDormand read the name of the winner, the audience audibly gasped, and it’s hard to say who looked more shell-shocked, Close (whose daughter was sitting behind me and broke down in tears) or Colman (who was mobbed by her collaborators, including recent best actress Oscar winner Emma Stone). “This is hilarious,” Colman said during an endearingly awkward acceptance speech delivered through tears. “I got an Oscar!” She also acknowledged her “hero” Close before closing, somewhat randomly, with a shout-out to Lady Gaga. Colman has since revealed that she was drunk and “can’t remember” the night at all.
2. “The time has come” (2010)
It took until the 82nd Oscars, but a female — namely, The Hurt Locker‘s Kathryn Bigelow — finally won the best director Oscar, beating her ex-husband, Avatar‘s James Cameron, no less. Anticipating this outcome, Streisand — one of the most prominent female directors, who, alas, had never even been nominated for the best director Oscar — requested the opportunity to present that award on that night. She opened the envelope, smiled and declared, “The time has come!” An emotional Bigelow was greeted with a huge standing ovation, took the Oscar from Streisand and remarked, “There’s no other way to describe it: it’s the moment of a lifetime.”
1. Envelopegate (2017)
It was literally the worst screw-up unimaginable. It was the most dramatic moment in which no one was (physically) hurt in the history of live TV. And it was, without a doubt, the craziest thing to ever happen not only at the Academy Awards (which long predate live TV), but at any awards show. I’m referring, of course, to the tail end of the 89th Oscars ceremony, when the wrong film was announced as the winner of best picture. The mistake only became apparent to viewers after the producers of La La Land, the film that didn’t actually win, were wrapping up their acceptance speeches, and it deprived the producers of Moonlight, the film that did actually win, of a fully joyful celebration of what would have been a gasp-inducing upset even if announced cleanly. It wasn’t immediately apparent how such a thing had happened, but there were suspects (presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway), heroes (Jordan Horowitz, the La La Land producer who took control of the situation and called up his Moonlight counterparts) and villains (PwC accountants Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz). It was all enough to give a journalist tasked with getting to the bottom of what happened a full-fledged panic attack; then days of studying “crime scene footage” like the Zapruder film; and ultimately, a year later, the challenge of tracking down the key players for a juicy oral history about what actually went down. The bottom line? Fittingly enough for the Trump era, it all started with a tweet.
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