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The Most Memorable Moments in Oscars History

by W Staff

The cast and crew of 'Moonlight' accept the Best Picture award.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

There have been countless moments throughout the history of the Academy Awards that shook the entertainment industry—and shaped it. But ahead of the 93rd Annual Oscars, which will take place this Sunday, the W editors have chosen their all-time favorites, from Halle Berry’s historic win as the first Black woman to receive the Best Actress accolade in 2002 (!!!!) to Jennifer Lawrence taking a tumble. Relive the most shocking, hilarious, and meaningful cultural happenings at past Oscar Awards shows, here.

“Up, Up, Up, Up!”

Parasite won Best Picture after sweeping multiple categories at the 2020 Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. (Seeing Bong Joon-ho become increasingly creative with his acceptance speeches was a joy in and of itself.) However, when the full cast and crew swept the stage to take home The Big One, I nearly shed a tear. I'm not of Korean descent, but seeing a group of people who looked so much like me and my family, hearing their native language amplified to the crowd at the Dolby Theater, felt like a win for all Asians—especially in an industry that's perpetrated decades of erasure, lack of representation, and racism (which still persists today) onto Asian people. Here was a Korean thriller (a genre that had largely gone ignored by the Academy), effectively a foreign film, not even in English winning Best Picture! The thrill of it made me dizzy. Apart from the cultural implications, there are so many things to relish about this win: the way Jane Fonda says “Parasite.” Tom Hanks and Charlize Theron yelling, "Up, up, up!" when they realized the Parasite crew wasn't finished with their acceptance speech and the house turned down the lights. The shocked and delighted looks on the faces of Cho Yeo-jung, Choi Woo-sik, and Song Kang-ho. Everything about this historic moment proves how deserving these auteurs really are. —Maxine Wally

Jennifer Lawrence, Please Be Careful Out There

Imagine: you’re a young actress, you’ve just heard your name called to receive the highest honor in your industry, the entire world is watching, and your Dior Couture dress is enormous. As Lawrence ascended the dais to accept her Oscar, she tripped on the voluminous fabric of her gown, and immediately became a Hollywood folk hero. Jean Dujardin, who presented her award, rushed to help her onto her feet, but by that point, she’d already turned the mortification into a joke. “You guys are only standing because you feel bad that I fell and that’s really embarrassing,” she said. Also very relatable. —Meagan Fredette

Also, the J. Law/Jack Nicholson Run-in

The moment that inspired a thousand memes. In the middle of Lawrence’s interview with ABC following her Best Actress win for her role in Silver Linings Playbook, Jack Nicholson interrupts to say hello to reporter George Stephanopoulos. He tells her she "looks like an old girlfriend," to which she responds, “do I look like a new girlfriend?” then promptly freaks out. It's an A+ exchange—and turned out to be a wonderfully useful reaction gif. —MW

Sacheen Littlefeather Declining to Accept an Oscar on Behalf of Marlon Brando

In protest of Hollywood’s racist portrayal of Native American and Indigenous peoples, the actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather attended the Oscars in Marlon Brando’s place and declined to accept his Best Actor Oscar in 1973, after he won for his career-resuscitating star turn in The Godfather. Brando became the second-ever performer to turn down the Academy Award for Best Actor, after George C. Scott refused to accept his award in 1971. —Brooke Marine

Moonlight Should Have Won, Then Did

Everyone remembers where they were during the Moonlight win. That year I was at an Oscars watch party and I literally put my money on Moonlight winning Best Picture. Mostly everyone else there (who look a lot different than me!) put La La Land and were so smitten that they won that they turned off the TV. Cut to me running to turn it back on after receiving a text from my friend and seeing it all unfold just in time: the ‘Moonlight’ cast walking on stage with jaws dropped, the audience’s bewildered facial expressions, Ryan Gosling trying to hide his laugh. This was such a moment for Black people, because stories like ours aren’t widely recognized by Hollywood and to see such a brilliant film like Moonlight get its due was amazing. —Chanel Parks

Roberto Benigni Goes for a Climb

The Italian actor Roberto Benigni celebrated his 1999 Best Actor Oscar win for his role in Life is Beautiful with pure, unflitered joy. His reaction? Climbing all over the seats at the theater while making his way to the stage, his arms thrown in the air triumphantly. —MW

Three-Six Mafia Gets This Money for the Rent

As someone who grew up listening to Southern rap, it was a particularly thrilling experience to see the artists responsible for such gems as “Slob on My Knob” and “Tear Da Club Up” take the stage in a room full of actors who generally take themselves way too seriously. Juicy J, DJ Paul, Frayser Boy, and Crunchy Black won Best Original Song for “It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” the lead track from Hustle and Flow, in 2006—where they also became the first hip-hop group to perform at the Oscars. Their acceptance-speech shout outs to Ludacris and George Clooney made the moment that much sweeter. —Katie Connor

Halle Berry’s Historic Best Actress Win

Halle Berry was rendered speechless when she won the Best Actress Oscar in 2002 for her performance in Monster’s Ball. She thanked Spike Lee and Oprah Winfrey for being early believers in her craft and lifelong mentors. To this day, she remains the only Black woman to have taken home the award, and the actress recently went on record to call the win “heartbreaking” due to the fact that, well, not much has really changed in nearly 20 years since her historic win. —BM

Gwyneth Paltrow Is Out of Breath

Looking back at this footage, I wonder why Gwyneth Paltrow's breathy, weepy acceptance speech for Best Actress in the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love is such an iconic moment. To be quite frank, there are many other equally breathy, weepy acceptance speeches in the Oscars historical canon. But there's just something about Paltrow's delivery—or maybe it's her regal pink Ralph Lauren gown, which will go down in Academy Awards history, or the embrace she gives her mother, Blythe Danner, before she makes her way to the stage. Either way, this is an unforgettable moment from the 1999 awards show. —MW

James Franco and Anne Hathaway Host the 2011 Oscars

Has there ever been a more mismatched duo? Was Franco stoned? What was the Academy thinking? We still don’t have answers to those questions a decade later, and yes, we are still cringing. —BM

Leonardo DiCaprio Finally Gets His Day

The Wolf of Wall Street. What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Blood Diamond. These are all movies Leonardo DiCaprio starred in for which he should have won a Best Actor award. But he did not. And after years of snubs, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won the accolade in 2016 for The Revenant. He took the opportunity to discuss climate change in his acceptance speech—for which, notably, the Oscars did not play the “it's time to wrap it up” music. He capped things off with a conclusion for the ages: “Let us not take this planet for granted, I do not take tonight for granted.” —MW

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