Most awards shows are bad. The Oscars are exceptionally bad. Each year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences finds new ways to disappoint. It’s like the Super Bowl for the entertainment industry. But at least the Super Bowl has a higher percentage of people of color represented onscreen.
The Oscars are bad at politics, bad at entertainment, bad at representation, bad at addressing labor issues within Hollywood. Remember the time the Academy allegedly fired an employee for having stage-four cancer? The programming is bloated and self-serious. And, as we know, it’s so white. So very, very white. Even many embroiled entertainment professionals claim to hate it, but millions of people still tune in. It’s essentially become a local holiday. Literally, the only positive thing the Oscars have ever done is give Three 6 Mafia an award.
But how is this Oscars night different than any other Oscars night? It isn’t, really. The Oscars have always had its share of dumb moments. Yet some moments stick out more than others.
Here are the Oscars at their absolute worst.
9. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announce the wrong Best Picture winner (2017).
In a bizarre display of prescience, three days before the Oscars the Huffington Post published an article entitled "What Would Happen If a Presenter Announced the Wrong Winner at the Oscars?" Welp, we all found out on Sunday and it wasn't pretty. After apparently receiving the wrong envelope — the one containing the card announcing Emma Stone's Best Actress win for La La Land — a befuddled Warren Beatty handed off the card to co-presenter Faye Dunaway, who confidently announced that La La Land had won Best Picture. Eventually, someone came onstage to clarify that, in fact, Moonlight (the far superior film) had won Best Picture, but not before three La La Land producers said their speeches. I'm sure plenty of people are saying it was an elaborate hoax, but the look on Damien Chazelle's face says otherwise. God bless Jordan Horowitz, one of the La La Land producers, for being the only person with the presence of mind (and the class) to clear up the snafu. —Gwynedd Stuart
8. VFX award winner cut off during speech about how screwed VFX companies are (2013).
The VFX team who won the Oscar for visual effects for their work on Life of Pi tried to wedge in a statement about how Rhythm and Hues, the VFX house that worked on this film, was going bankrupt, despite being at the top of its game. That company was its own tangled mess, but the VFX artists were trying to make a point about how Hollywood abuses certain crafts within the film and television industry (like VFX and music supervision, to name a couple). But the producers unceremoniously cut them short, because not to do so would be an admission that Hollywood engages in all sorts of questionable labor practices. They made a documentary, Life After Pi, about dozens of companies that were getting screwed around the same time. (Watch the clip here.)
7. Bob Hope acts like a dick (1975).
Hearts and Minds was an anti–Vietnam War film that won Best Documentary in 1975. Bert Schneider, the film’s co-producer, accepted the prize and read “a “Greetings of Friendship to all American People” telegram from Ambassador Dinh Ba Thi of the Viet Cong, which essentially thanked the peace movement for its role in helping bring peace to the region. This angered Nixon cronies like Bob Hope, who was the host that year (his 18th time, actually).
Hope apparently already was livid that the documentary portrayed him in a negative light, and this speech quoting Dinh Ba Thi pushed him over the edge. During the event, the aging blowhard wrote a note and passed it to Frank Sinatra, the evening’s co-host, to read on air.
Sinatra said, “The Academy is saying, ‘We are not responsible for any political references made on the program, and we are sorry they had to take place this evening.’” The story goes that after the show, the Academy chided Hope for speaking on the Academy’s behalf, if that’s any consolation.
6. Saving Private Ryan interpretive dance medley (1999)
Apparently there isn't time for an Oscar winner to make a point about how messed up the VFX industry is, but there was time in 1999 for an interpretive dance for every Best Picture nominee. I’d like to think whoever approved this is now working in a license plate manufacturing plant or some other cultural gulag. But the producer of that year’s Oscars would live to produce more awards shows down the road. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a WWII vet watching this. Ugh.
5. Debby Boone sings “You Light Up My Life” to fake deaf kids (1978).
The Oscars are well known for tugging on cheesy heartstrings whenever possible. Debby Boone singing “You Light Up My Life” to fake deaf kids is one of the stupidest, most cynical things they could have possibly done. Clearly, this was either a last-minute idea or for some other reason the producers couldn’t acquire actual deaf kids. At which point, you’d assume they’d drop the concept and just have Boone singing to kids who can hear. But no, they didn’t. There is also plenty of nonsense sign language, too, which likely confused and upset actual deaf people watching at home. (Unfortunately, no clip exists online.)
4. James Franco and Anne Hathaway host (2011).
The Academy tried to spice it up by having two actors in their early 30s host as a duo. Unfortunately, they tapped class clown James Franco and overachieving Tracy Flick impersonator Anne Hathaway for this experiment. It’s several hours of a stoned James Franco being James Franco and Hathaway playing the better half of this odd couple. The result is some really hard-to-stomach television.
3. James Cameron exclaims, “I’m the King of the World!” (1998)
In a different century, Cameron would be an explorer whose hubris leads to him contracting some exotic disease and dying on an expedition. Unfortunately, he came up in our lifetime and has amassed a very large ego. Whether this was planned in advance or a Freudian freestyle, he belted out, “I’m the King of the World!” because he couldn’t help himself. Dickhead.
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2. Crash wins Best Picture (2006).
As I recently outlined, Crash is a very bad movie. Somehow this unwatchable film won Best Picture. But, Crash is not alone. The Academy seems to choose awful or forgettable movies (Shakespeare in Love, A Beautiful Mind, Dances With Wolves, to name just a few obvious examples) at a rate near 50 percent of the time. The fact that director Paul Haggis was one of the Church of Scientology’s highest-profile members at the time of the 2006 Oscars does not seem coincidental. Only Xenu could have been responsible for this travesty of intergalactic proportions. I'm looking forward to adding La La Land inevitably winning this year to this list.
1. Billy Crystal wears blackface (2012).
It was only five years ago that Billy Crystal resuscitated his terrible Sammy Davis Jr. impression, replete with blackface. It’s bad. The worst, even. This is both offensive and relentlessly unfunny, like most of Mr. Crystal's career. This is what the Oscars thinks about its audiences and people of color in one concise clip. It's one hell of a self-own.