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The nine most memorable moments of Oscar history

Year after year, we cheer for the well-deserved wins and complain about the snubs. This year, the 92nd Academy Awards took place in early February, celebrating the best films of 2019. Before long, we’ll forget all about them until awards season rolls around yet again. We rinse and repeat.  

Nevertheless, there have been plenty of surprising moments at the Academy Awards that are impossible to forget. Here are some of the most memorable Oscar moments since the 1970s. 

1972: Charlie Chaplin returns to Hollywood 

In this image: A headshot of Charlie Chaplin.
Charlie Chaplin in the role of the tramp. The Tramp was released on April 11, 1915. Public domain

After 20 years of politically imposed exile from the United States, the legendary director/writer/producer/actor/composer returned to Hollywood to receive an honorary Oscar. Chaplin was awarded for the incredible influence his life’s work had in elevating the film industry. He received a 12-minute standing ovation from the ceremony attendees.  

1973: Marlon Brando turns down the Oscar for Best Actor 

In this image: Marlon Brando sits in a chair on The Dick Cavett Show in 1973.
Marlon Brando on The Dick Cavett Show in 1973, following the success of The Godfather. Creative Commons

Marlon Brando even boycotted the ceremony altogether. When he won for his performance in The Godfather, Indigenous rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather gave a speech on his behalf. She protested the film industry’s unfair treatment and portrayal of Indigenous peoples. Brando is the last of only three people in Oscar history to turn down an award.  

1990: Driving Miss Daisy wins Best Picture 

In this image: Morgan Freeman.
Morgan Freeman plays Hoke Colburn in Driving Miss Daisy, the driver who develops a bond with Daisy Werthan. Photo by David Sifry

Driving Miss Daisy is still considered one of the most controversial best picture wins in Oscar history. While the film tries to tackle racism in America, many have criticized it for perpetuating the white saviour trope and glossing over real racial tensions. Many were also angry that the movie won over Spike Lee’s critically acclaimed film Do the Right Thing, which wasn’t even nominated for best picture. Critics have compared Driving Miss Daisy to the 2019 best picture winner Green Book because of its lack of understanding of anti-Black racism.   

1999: Roberto Benigni wins Best Foreign Language Film for Life Is Beautiful 

In this image: Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi.
Roberto Benigni (right) and Nicoletta Braschi at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. Photo by Georges Biard

When Sophia Loren announced the winner, Benigni stood on the backs of people’s chairs (Steven Spielberg had to help him keep his balance) and waved his arms up and down in joy. He jumped his way up to the stage to receive the award. His happiness was contagious.  

2002: Halle Berry becomes the first woman of color to win Best Actress  

In this image: Halle Berry.
Halle Berry at New York Fashion Week in 2010. Photo by German Marin

The acclaimed actress won for her role in Monster’s Ball. Although women of colour had previously won in the best supporting actress category (the first of which was Hattie McDaniel for her performance in Gone with the Wind in 1940), none had won for best leading actress.  Berry remains the only woman of colour to win in this category.  

2004: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King wins everything 

In this image: Peter Jackson on a panel.
Peter Jackson speaking at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con International. Jackson directed The Return of the King. Photo by Gage Skidmore

The Return of the King won in all 11 categories that it was nominated for, including best picture. The film is now tied with Titanic and Ben-Hur for a single film with the most wins. No other film in Oscar history has won in all of its nominated categories. 

2010: Kathryn Bigelow becomes first woman to win Best Director  

In this image: Kathryn Bigelow.
Kathryn Bigelow at the Time 100 Gala in 2010. Photo by David Shankbone

Bigelow won for her war drama The Hurt Locker. So far, she’s still the only woman to have won the best director award. Of the 50 people that have been nominated in the category since then, only one has been a woman: Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird

2017: La La Land is accidentally named Best Picture winner over Moonlight 

In this image: Jimmy Kimmel and Warren Beatty announce Moonlight as the Best Picture winner.
In 2017, La La Land was mistakenly announced as the best picture winner at the Oscars. Immediately after, Moonlight was announced as the real winner of the biggest award of the night. Photo by Walt Disney Television on Flickr

Who could forget the mix-up that no one ever seems to shut up about? Presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong card and mistakenly announced La La Land as the winner of the biggest award of the night. When they discovered the mistake, La La Land producers (who had already given acceptance speeches) gracefully bowed out to let the real winners take the spotlight. 

2020: Parasite wins Best Picture 

In this image: Bong Joon-ho.
Bong Joon-ho at the Okja Japan premiere in 2017. Photo by Dick Thomas Johnson

This win made history for being the first non-English language film to receive the best picture award. The film also won three other awards: best international feature film, best original screenplay and best director. Every time director Bong Joon-ho went up on stage, he seemed more surprised to have won yet another Oscar. His ability to come up with a new acceptance speech every time was commendable.  


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