A-List: Five Most Iconic Oscar Moments

By J. Don Birnam

October 2, 2014

One of the best live TV quips ever.

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Telluride and Toronto presaged it and the New York Film Festival now leaves no doubt: try to escape as you may, awards season is amongst us. In less than two months, the New York Film Critics will give out their annual prizes, and we will be halfway through the race.

Are you excited? I am. For all the complaining that we all love to do about the Oscars, I return to my by-now known theme: they matter and affect the movies that get made. And, frankly, after three months of repetitive blockbuster sequels and remakes, who doesn’t welcome the respite that awards season fare provides? Most years the Oscars and the movies that get released in time for their and the critics’ attention give us hope that there are still powerful voices out there in cinema, voices worth listening to. Yes, the linchpin of post-war Americana is alive and well: all’s good at the movies, awards season reminds us.

So, steeped in optimism and looking forward to the next months (which will most assuredly not be the case in four and a half months), I couldn’t help look back to some of my favorite moments in Oscar history.

This immediately became a daunting task. Perhaps one of the many reasons the Oscars are so intriguing to statistics and history lovers like me is that their multidimensional presentation (kind of like baseball) lends itself to analysis and study, stats and numbers, around several of its moments. So I quickly realized that one could make dozens of A-List columns about the Oscars. Best Oscar dresses. Best red carpet moments. Best Oscar speeches. And, of course, one can make probably hundreds of lists attacking or praising the Academy’s choices in different ways. Worst snubs, Worst Best Picture winners, Best actors to never win an Oscar, etc.




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So, for my first crossover column - i.e., A-List plus Oscars - I decided to go with a somewhat simple listing: Most Iconic Oscar Moments. This refers exclusively to the telecast of the Awards. It excludes, necessarily, analysis of the actual choices made by the voters, it does not include red carpet moments or fashion, and it also excludes - importantly, the content of speeches. On the other hand, I did include memorable moments by hosts and/or presenters. Although one could make lists of those as well, let’s be honest. Presenters and particularly hosts are routinely panned and have the unenviable job of transitioning the telecast (which started running in 1953) into what audiences are tuned in for - the next winners. Thus, making the list of “Best Oscar Host Moments” would probably force me to pare down from five to like, two, for the first time in my writing of the A-List column.

But importantly, “iconic” does not mean “good” or “bad,” brilliant or not. Indeed, as you will see from my list, some of these moments are far from good or worthy of repetition. They are brutal reminders that the Oscars are simply produced by human beings and that, like a movie, choices can sometimes be questionable and lead to cringe-worthy results.

One thing that becomes immediately apparent from the list is the lack of any iconic moments from the last 10 or so years. This is not surprising, as television has become particularly dull in the post-Janet Jackson boob-gate world. But the Oscars, always reliably stodgy, are perhaps the worst offenders, wanting to appeal to as broad an audience as possible while keeping it classy and inoffensive. It seems almost as if anyone who dares to veer off script does so under threat of banishment from the industry and few, indeed, have the temerity to do so today.


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