Five underrated Oscar speeches. Five opportunities to applaud fine podium behavior. Let’s go.
1. Ingrid Bergman, Best Supporting Actress for Murder on the Orient Express
This is one of my all-time favorites: Ingrid Bergman, who had probably forgotten all about her tiny, insignificant part in Murder on the Orient Express (which, by the way, is mysteriously popular among Agatha Christie stories despite having the most ridiculous, unenjoyably stupid conclusions in her entire catalog — how is that trash heap more well-known than the glorious Witness for the Prosecution? Tell me!) won her third Oscar in 1974 against, among other notable performances, Madeline effing Kahn in Blazing effing Saddles. But Ingrid knew how weird this win was: In her speech, she immediately announced that sometimes the Oscars’ “timing is wrong” before cheering on fellow nominee Valentina Cortese, explaining how Cortese’s performance in Day for Night illustrated wonderful truths about acting, and announcing that she never meant to compete against Ms. Cortese. “I don’t like it at all — forgive me, Valentina!” Just fabulous.
2. Cloris Leachman, Best Supporting Actress for The Last Picture Show
This may sound impossible, but there’s a way to win an Oscar and thank everybody who needs to be thanked while still remeaing entertaining. I’m always amazed that people who are purportedly great entertainers go up to accept an Oscar and recite a list of names on national television. Cloris Leachman, the radiant genius she is, was entertaining throughout her quick, somewhat erratic speech in which she namedrops Walter Mitty, her father Buck Leachman “who paid the bills,” and my favorite, “Cornelia Williams Hurlbut, my first piano teacher.” It also helps that she earned the HELL out of that Oscar.
3. Emma Thompson, Best Actress for Howards End
Emma Thompson may be the greatest award show figure of all time. She’s smart, extemporaneous, and so, so talented, and that makes her appearances at glitzy podiums such a treat. When she won her first Oscar for Howards End, she sincerely thanked all the right people while sort of satirizing the familiar way Oscar winners act exasperated at the podium. She feigns shortness of breath and uses those pauses to deliver funny comic asides, and each one lands wonderfully.
4. Emma Thompson, Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility
I’m sorry, but I had to include Ms. Thompson’s second stint at the Oscar podium too. She famously read off a letter “from” Jane Austen when she collected a Golden Globe for writing her Sense and Sensibility adaptation, but at the Oscars, she opted to give us another round of fabulous humor. “Before I came here I went to visit Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester Catheral to pay my respects, you know, and to tell her about the grosses. And I don’t know how she would react to an evening like this but I do hope, I do hope she knows how big she is in Uruguay.” Yes! Montevideo thanks you, goddess Emma!
1. Sean Penn, Best Actor for Milk
Maybe it’s because Dustin Lance Black gave a moving speech about Harvey Milk and his accomplishments, but for some reason Sean Penn’s very funny, touching, and cool speech for his Milk Oscar isn’t as widely remembered. “You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns!” he began. “I did not expect this, but I want it to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me, often.” Pretty slick humor, no? He goes on to throw his support behind “equal rights for everyone” and even shouts out Mickey Rourke, whose phenomenal comeback in The Wrestler was the buzziest thing about the 2008 Oscars. Also: Though Milk has its detractors, you cannot argue that Sean Penn gave anything less than the greatest performance of that year. A justified win and a killer speech.
Any other underrated speeches we should revisit? You do realize you can read the text of any Oscar speech in history at Oscars.org, right?