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Useful Notes / Academy Awards Ceremonies

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"[The] Academy Awards: Two hours of sparkling entertainment, spread out over a four-hour show."
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The Academy Awards Ceremonies (commonly known as "The Oscars", though not officially named as such until 2013) are an annual Award Show honoring the best in film for the previous year.

This page contains tropes about the ceremonies in general.


The envelope, please...

  • All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": Billy Crystal slipped in a few well-timed puns about the surprise twist of the Trope Namer during his tenure as the 1993 host. Made all the funnier if you've seen it.
  • Assumed Win:
    • La La Land was considered the odds-on-favorite for Best Picture at the 89th Awards, and was actually announced as the winner, but before all the producers could finish their acceptance speeches, it was revealed that Moonlight was the real winner for Best Picture and that Warren Beatty made a mistake due to receiving the wrong envelope.
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    • With a major director at the helm, universal acclaim, and praise for its unflinching portrayal of war, Saving Private Ryan was about as sure a bet for Best Picture as could be. That's why you could hear gasps in the audience when Shakespeare in Love took home the award.
    • Everyone assumed Lauren Bacall would win Best Supporting Actress for The Mirror Has Two Faces, even Juliette Binoche, who was also nominated, for The English Patient. Binoche looked genuinely shocked and stunned when her name was announced instead. Like Shakespeare in Love, a savvy marketing campaign by Miramax Films sparked the upset.
    • Back in the 2006 Oscars, it was expected that Brokeback Mountain would win for Best Picture. But Crash took home the trophy. Jack Nicholson, who presented the category, sounded disappointed when he announced the winner, letting out a much-memed "Whoa".
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    • After losing six previous times, Glenn Close was expected to win Best Actress in 2019. Actual winner Olivia Colman even apologized to Close in her acceptance speech.
    • One of the largest shocks in the history of the Oscars happened in 1948, when Rosalind Russell was considered the only possible Best Actress winner for her role in the tragic Eugene O'Niell melodrama Mourning Becomes Electra. The term "sure thing" doesn't cover the perception at the time that Russell was unquestionably going to win. It was more like "forgone conclusion". So when it was time for the award, Russell was actually rising from her seat before the envelope was opened, and the presenter even said her first name before looking at the envelope and realizing that Loretta Young had actually won for a light-hearted, mostly forgotten comedy called The Farmer's Daughter.
  • Attack of the Political Ad: Played for Laughs on the 2006 Awards, which was hosted by Jon Stewart. One was about Keira Knightley and took a shot at Charlize Theron "hagging it up" in movies such as Monster.
    "Keira Knightley for Best Actress. Keira Knightley, Acting While Beautiful!"
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: In a long-runner such as the Oscars, there have been a few at least where completely unexpected situations have cropped up out of nowhere:
    • In 1974, the 46th Academy Awards were briefly interrupted when a man named Robert Opel rushed onto the stage and streaked naked behind presenter David Niven, who without missing a beat quipped, "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?"
    • Marlon Brando, a year previous, boycotted the awards, sending Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to protest Native American treatment in Hollywood. When he won for his role in The Godfather, Littlefeather accepted and made a brief statement on the subject (Brando had actually given her a much longer speech to read, but she was threatened with ejection or arrest if she attempted to read it) before leaving the stage. She did not collect the Oscar for Brando. Roger Moore, the presenter, claims he was allowed to briefly keep it (presumably because someone had to take it home!), before an armored car sent by the Academy came by to retrieve it.
    • George C. Scott refused to show up in 1971 to the 43rd Academy Awards, where he won Best Actor for his title role in Patton, dismissing the competition as "a goddamn meat parade". He even refused acceptance of the statuette afterwards, but told them to give it to the George S Patton Museum. It instead was eventually installed at the Virginia Military Institute (Patton's alma mater).
    • While hosting the 86th Academy Awards in 2014, Ellen DeGeneres decided to buy some pizza, requesting money from the artists using Pharrell Williams' Nice Hat, and actually bringing the (clearly surprised) delivery boy on stage. Two years later, Chris Rock did the same trick by bringing in Girl Scouts to sell cookies to the gathered stars.
    • At the 89th Academy Awards in 2017, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were presenting Best Picture, but were instead handed the envelope for Best Actress, which Emma Stone had won for La La Land. Confused, Beatty handed the envelope to Dunaway, who proclaimed La La Land as the winner for Best Picture. After the producers of La La Land came to the podium (with some even giving their acceptance speeches), producer Jordan Horowitz announced there was a mistake and that Moonlight actually won Best Picture. Beatty explained his mistake, host Jimmy Kimmel jokingly took the blame, and the statuettes were given to the producers of Moonlight.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Trevor Noah's appearance at the 91st Academy Awards has him use his gift for languages to insert an "old Xhosa phrase" which at the ceremony he says, is about how people are strong when they come together. Xhosa-speaking viewers correctly identified that what he said was "White people don't know I'm lying".
  • Black Comedy:
    • During the 1993 ceremony, Billy Crystal mentioning that Disney had bought a hockey team (the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim), and then saying he'd thought that the only "Disney on Ice" was Walt himself (alluding to the urban legend that Walt Disney was encased in a block of ice after his death). Crystal mentioned afterward that the reason he wore black was so that he could make that joke.
    • Seth MacFarlane, when speaking about Lincoln in 2013, quipped that in his opinion the actor who "really got inside Lincoln's head" was John Wilkes Booth. The audience audibly winced at that one.
      Seth MacFarlane: Really? A hundred and fifty years, and it's still too soon, huh?
  • Camp: In general, the show's production numbers — such as the chorus numbers that opened many shows up through the 1990s, interpretive dance/variety performances used to introduce categories such as Original Score and Costume Design, and performances of Best Song nominees that don't take a minimalist approach have often qualified as low/unintentional camp. The notorious Snow White-meets-Rob Lowe opening of 1989 was actually high/intentional camp, adapted from the beloved San Francisco-based revue Beach Blanket Babylon, but to say audiences didn't get the joke is an understatement. Post-1989, there have been production numbers led by the hosts that are intentionally tongue-in-cheek but more obviously humorous, which are usually well-received (see Hugh Jackman's opening in 2009).
  • Channel Hop: From NBC (which first televised the ceremonies in 1953) to ABC in 1961, back to NBC in 1971, and back to ABC in 1976.
  • Continuity Nod: A few memorable moments will carry over to the following year.
    • Jack Palance shows off with one-armed push-ups on stage when he receives his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for City Slickers in 1992. In 1993, the curtain goes up on him towing a giant Oscar, upon which sits host (and his costar in the aforementioned film) Billy Crystal, onto the stage — and doing a few more one-armed push-ups along the way.
    • Adrian Brody plants The Big Damn Kiss on Halle Berry receiving Best Actor in 2003. An Anticipatory Breath Spray is employed before he delivers Best Actress in 2004.
    • John Travolta somehow mangles Idina Menzel's name into "Adele Dazeem" in 2014; the following year she is asked to introduce him on stage with the same treatment — but not before Neil Patrick Harris said Benedict Cumberbatch is "what you get by asking John Travolta to introduce Ben Affleck."
  • Costume Porn: Usually of the fancy side, as Sharp-Dressed Man and Pimped-Out Dress is the dress code which it would always been seen in the red carpet. But the subversions of that are always memorable, be it weird, ridiculous, cross-dressing, or way too informal.
  • Cringe Comedy: The Best Picture presentation in 2017 once the infamous mistake had been identified.
  • Extra-Long Episode: The 74th Awards, in 2002, set a record by running 4 hours and 23 minutes; in the same amount of time, you could watch Best Picture winner A Beautiful Mind and fellow nominee Moulin Rouge! back-to-back. There were several factors that led to this: There was a first-time producer (Laura Ziskin) working on a show that had been flirting with the 4-hour mark in the years since it was moved to an early evening Sunday timeslot. But there was also a huge sense of "a historic night" that permeated the show. It was the first Oscars held in the newly-built theater at the Hollywood & Highland complex, and with Whoopi Goldberg hosting and the expected (and ultimately delivered) wins of Denzel Washington and Halle Berry for Best Actor and Best Actress, the night was anticipated to be a watershed moment for race relations in Hollywood. Add the fact that it was the first post-9/11 Oscars, with all the expected tributes and "Movies: Now More Than Ever" rhetoric, and you had plenty of statements that the show wanted to make. Most reviews acknowledged that Oscar's heart was in the right place, but felt the whole thing just got too bloated. The Academy vowed to tighten things up in the future, and the show hasn't gone over four hours since.
  • Eye Take: Steve Martin hosted the 2001 show. This trope came into play in re the Accidental Innuendo in Penélope Cruz' filmography.
    "Ms. Cruz has been seen in the films Live Flesh, Woman On Top and can now be seen in Blow."
  • Filk Song: Billy Crystal had a tradition of turning songs into summaries of the Best Picture nominees and/or tributes to their performers/filmmakers from his first hosting gig in 1990 onward. ("Unforgettable" into "Unforgivable", for instance.) This originated as a parody of the elaborate chorus numbers that had opened many previous ceremonies (and would turn up again in later ceremonies), specifically as a Take That! to the 1989 ceremony's Snow White and Rob Lowe debacle (where they sang a rewritten version of "Proud Mary" called "Keep Those Cameras Rollin' ").
  • Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics: Parodied in one act by Will Ferrell and Jack Black, claiming that the music played to end overly-long speeches actually has lyrics.
  • The Host: A celebrity, usually (though not always) a comedian, typically serves as master of ceremonies for the show. There have been a number of them through the years.
    • Bob Hope hosted a record 19 times, either alone or in conjunction with others, between 1940 and 1978. A Running Gag was Hope's disappointment over failing to get a Best Actor statue himself.
    • Billy Crystal comes in second, having hosted nine times, and is regarded by many as the best Oscar host ever. Perhaps his most memorable moment came in 1992, when he opened the show by being wheeled onto the stage in a Hannibal Lecter getup.
    • Other notable Oscar hosts have included Johnny Carson, Chevy Chase, Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, Hugh Jackman, Seth MacFarlane, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jimmy Kimmel.
    • In some years there have been multiple hosts sharing the duties. This has been a rarity since the '80s, although in 2010 Steve Martin co-hosted with Alec Baldwin, while the 2011 ceremony paired James Franco and Anne Hathaway.
    • There was also the "Friends of Oscar" era (1969-71), when MC duties rotated throughout the show among a big group of stars (34 [!] in 1971).
    • Averted with the 1989 ceremonies, which went one step beyond the "Friends of Oscar" idea: there were no designated hosts at all, just a long series of presenters (in some cases, there were presenters whose only job was to introduce the actual presenters of an award). The 2019 ceremony also went hostless, after planned host Kevin Hart dropped out (due to the controversy over some old homophobic comments he'd made on Twitter) and the Academy were unable to find a replacement.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: A guaranteed crowd-pleaser is to pair the co-stars of a classic film as presenters. Real Life couples and parent/child teams are also favorites of the producers.
  • Interface Spoiler: Occasionally you can guess who the winner will be based on the presenters, although the Academy usually avoids this on most occasion. One very obvious example is the 2007 Ceremony, where Martin Scorsese was nominated for Best Director for The Departed with many believing he would finally win this time. As soon as the presenters came on stage (Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas), it became clear that Scorsese would win owing to the fact that he and the presenters were part of the "movie brats" generation, mostly because of the association, but also because it was rare for three presenters to give the Best Director award.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • The Best Picture gaffe of 2017 became an instant meme, with the card carrying Moonlight's name frequently being photoshopped to include everything from snubbed films to complete nonsense such as copypastas. That includes the photo of the celebrities' reactions to the blunder, especially that of the Rock.
    • Other meme-worthy moments include "Adele Dazeem" and the Oscar Selfie, both from 2014.
  • Newer Than They Think:
    • Clips of the Best Picture nominees being spread out over the entire show, as well as presenters saying "And the Oscar goes to..."note  only date back to the 61st ceremonies in 1989—yes, the notorious Allan Carr-produced "Worst Oscars Ever". Other Oscar staples that Carr introduced were extended red carpet coverage before the show, and Bruce Vilanch as a member of the writing staff (he stuck around for the next 25 years).
    • The "In Memoriam" montage, honoring film notables who died in the previous year, has only been an annual part of the show since 1994.
    • The current venue, the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, opened in 2002. Before that, Hollywood's biggest night hadn't actually been held in Hollywood for 41 years. It moved to Santa Monica for 8 years, then bounced between two downtown LA venues (the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Shrine Auditorium) for the next few decades.
    • The ceremonies only started being really long in 1974, when the show ran 3 hours and 23 minutes, a full 45 minutes longer than the previous year. Before then, it wasn't at all uncommon for the show to finish in under two hours, or for the Oscars to be shorter than the film that won Best Picture (the ceremonies honoring The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story and Ben-Hur all had this odd distinction).
    • They've only been held on a Sunday night since the 71st Awards in 1999. Before that, they were traditionally a Monday night show.
  • Overshadowed by Controversy: While political comments by presenters and winners have been a longstanding source of polarization among viewers, a few moments have turned into all-out firestorms.
    • When Hearts and Minds won Best Documentary Feature just weeks before the fall of Saigon in 1975, producer Bert Schneider's acceptance speech included his reading a telegram sent by a Viet Cong leader to "Our friends in America." Bob Hope, hopping mad over this, urged the show's producers to make an announcement distancing the Oscars from political comments made by winners, which was read on-air by Frank Sinatra.
    • Vanessa Redgrave's Supporting Actress nomination for Julia garnered controversy before the awards, because of her advocacy for Palestinian causes. When she won, she criticized "Zionist hoodlums" in her speech, which drew boos from the audience. Again, another presenter came out later and lamented the use of the Oscars as a political platform, in this case three-time Screenplay winner (Marty, The Hospital, Network) Paddy Chayefsky.
    • Elia Kazan's Lifetime Achievement award in 1999 drew protesters to the awards and dozens of conspicuous non-applauders in the audience (most prominently Nick Nolte and Ed Harris), because of his actions during The Hollywood Blacklist era.
    • Roman Polanski's Best Director win for The Pianist, given that he was (and still is) a fugitive from justice for a sex crime.
    • The famous gaffe over La La Land and Moonlight overshadowed both the ceremony and the reputations of both films, and became the most notable impact both films made in popular culture, since the subject matter of both films are otherwise too esoteric and niche for mainstream appeal.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: There have been several occasions from the late 1980s onward where animated characters "came on stage" to present the Best Animated Short Film award, including Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Belle and the Beast (plus Chip), Snow White, and Chicken Little and Abby Mallard. This hasn't just happened for that one category; Beavis And Butthead presented the award for Best Sound Editing in 1997 and Edna Mode presented for Best Costume Design in 2005!
    • Ironically, an original concept for the 1989 show was for the trope-naming character and his wife Jessica to present the film's animation director Richard Williams with his Honorary Oscar, but producer Allan Carr said that it would have been too expensive and time-consuming to pull off.
    • Donald Duck actually served as one of several co-hosts for the 1958 ceremony.
  • Rule of Three: Daniel Day-Lewis has won the Best Actor Oscar three times, a record for any actor. Jack Nicholson and Walter Brenann have also won three Oscars each, albeit with two of Nicholson's in the Best Actor category and one for Supporting Actor, while Brennan won all three of his as a Supporting Actor. Meryl Streep too has three, two as Best Actress and one as Supporting. (Katharine Hepburn, meanwhile, won four awards for Best Actress.)
  • Running Gag:
    • Johnny Carson was well-known for taking an odd moment from early in the show and referring to it later on. The most memorable case was at the 52nd Awards in 1980. Alan Splet won a special award for his sound effects work on The Black Stallion, but couldn't be at the ceremony because he was in England working on The Elephant Man. Seizing on Splet's Inherently Funny Name, Carson joked that he was actually late driving to the ceremony and gave updates on the various mishaps Splet was facing on his journey.
    • Billy Crystal's second hosting gig in 1991 had him make his entrance riding a steer, referencing his soon-to-open film City Slickers. The next two years had similarly silly entrances — being wheeled out on a gurney just like Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs in 1992, and being towed out on a giant Oscar by Jack Palance in 1993. That last one doubled as a Continuity Nod to the previous year...
    • Specifically Palance's one-armed push-up stunt upon accepting Best Supporting Actor for the aforementioned City Slickers. Crystal periodically joked for the rest of that show about his costar's other amazing feats, reaching a high point after the performance of Hook's "When You're Alone" (which featured a stage full of flying tykes) with "Jack Palance is the father of all those children."
    "Jack Palance just bungee-jumped off the Hollywood Sign, ladies and gentlemen."
    • In the 2018 ceremony, noting how overly-long the ceremony had become due primarily to excessive acceptance speeches, Kimmel announced that whoever gave the shortest acceptance speech would win a brand-new jet ski. Some of the winners inevitably made references to this as a forewarning.
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: When Robin Williams performed "Blame Canada" at the 2000 ceremony, the female backup chorus gasped in order to cover up the word "fuck".
  • Tough Act to Follow: Whoever gets to host in the next ceremony really has to make it memorable and enjoyable most especially if the host of the previous ceremony really did it well. Viewers and TV critics would always be critical to the host's ability to make the show interesting.
  • Tragic Keepsake: The two acting Oscars to be (thus far) won posthumously basically turned the statuette into this. In both cases, members of the winner's family (Peter Finch's widow, Heath Ledger's parents and sister) accepted the award and gave a speech thanking the Academy for honoring the winner's legacy. In a weird coincidence, both actors were Australian.
  • Unexpected Character: The audience and viewers alike were stunned to see Woody Allen walk out on the stage in 2002, for his first (and so far, only) appearance at the Oscars, to introduce the post-9/11 "Love Letter to New York in the Movies" tribute. His appearance used O.O.C. Is Serious Business as a way to underline the theme of New York's importance as a film location.
  • What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: Rob Lowe's assessment of the 1989 opening production number, featuring him, Snow White, and Merv Griffin, in a 2018 interview.
    "I don’t know what’s more amazing — the concept of the number, or the fact that nobody was high who came up with it."

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