Claudia Leisinger


April 2003

Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director – pah! The fun parts of the Oscars are the things they want you to forget about afterwards. Story: Leigh Singer (aka ‘Tony Mark’)

Any sane movie lover’s relationship with the Oscars is a little like the gag that Woody Allen begins ‘Annie Hall’ with, where an old lady complains about the terrible food at a restaurant, and her dining companion replies, ‘Yes, and such small portions!’ We all bitch about the shameless emotional manipulation, breathless hype, self-congratulatory showboating and mawkish tributes – but, be honest, if they weren’t there, we’d feel a little cheated.

The Academy Awards weren’t always today’s bloated, multi-million dollar circus. In fact, the first ceremony in 1929 was basically a small, private banquet, where everyone already knew who the winners were. But before we get all dewy-eyed at the good old days, remember that they were screwing up the awards right from the start: Hitchcock and Cary Grant were snubbed when Oscar was still a teenager; ‘Citizen Kane’ was passed over in 1941, and all-time classics like ‘Bringing Up Baby’, ‘The Searchers’ and ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ weren’t even nominated for Best Picture.

Bleat on about the ruthless and aggressive jockeying for votes that Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax and DreamWorks indulge in today. But remember that in Year One, superstar Mary Pickford wooed the entire Awards board by inviting them back to her Beverly Hills mansion for high tea, and somehow mysteriously won Best Actress.

If you don’t understand that most of the 5,800-odd members of the Academy are middle-aged, middle-class liberals trying to justify their profession’s validity, then you’ll never get why homespun, reassuring ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ and ‘Ordinary People’ – both fine films, incidentally – beat out in successive years the wild, subversive ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Raging Bull’.

‘When you see who wins those things – or doesn’t win them,’ said Woody Allen, who until last year’s 9/11 New York tribute was a perennial no-show, ‘you can see how meaningless this Oscar thing is.’ But isn’t that half the fun? Sure, we can savour the rare decisions - ‘Casablanca’, ‘The Godfather’, ‘Unforgiven’, and, yes, ‘Annie Hall’ – that actually get it right. Can’t we also boo the unworthy ‘worthy’ winners, who often seem to have confused the ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize? Or heckle the embarrassing musical extravaganzas and sickly sentimental speeches? Speaking of which – anyone for a second helping?


Marlon Brando
Refusing his ‘Godfather’ Best Actor Oscar in 1972, Brando sent a proxy – ‘Apache Indian’ Sacheen Littlefeather, to protest on behalf of Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans.

Jane Fonda
1971’s Best Actress, known as ‘Hanoi’ Jane for her vocal ant-Vietnam war stance, for once kept quiet, simply thanking ‘those who applauded’ – which said everything.

Richard Gere
Hollywood’s favourite Buddhist using mental telepathy on Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping to free the people of Tibet in 1992: ‘send this thought out…’

Elia Kazan
The 1998 honorary award to the dishonourable 50’s McCarthy stool pigeon divided the audience. Great shots of stony-faced tough guys like Nick Nolte and Ed Harris refusing to join Kazan’s lukewarm standing ovation.

Vanessa Redgrave
The 1977 Best Supporting Actress and PLO campaigner’s ‘Zionist hoodlums’ speech almost finished her Hollywood movie career.

And the Winner is…

Marlon Brando – ‘Sacheen Littlefeather’ was later revealed as actress Maria Cruz, selected ‘Miss American Vampire of 1970’. Shame that the Lardfather didn’t campaign on behalf of US bloodsuckers instead.

HOST WITH THE MOST which Oscar MC rocks the house?

Johnny Carson (5 times host)
‘Welcome to the Academy Awards – two hours of sparkling entertainment, spread over a four-hour show.’

Billy Crystal (7 times host)
Singing his spot-on spoofs of the traditionally dire Oscar musical numbers: ‘Iiiit’s aaaa won-derful night for Oscar…’

Bob Hope (16 times host)
‘Welcome to the Academy Awards, or as it’s known at my house, Passover.’

Whoopi Goldberg (3 times host)
‘I want to say something to all the people who sent me [good cause] ribbons to wear: you don’t ask a black woman to buy an expensive dress and then cover it with ribbons.’

Steve Martin (2 times host)
‘Hosting the Oscars is like making love to a beautiful woman – it’s something I only get to do when Billy Crystal’s out of town.’

And the Winner Is…

Billy Crystal – OK, he plugs his own movies too much, but when he’s on form, those four hours just fly by.

MUST THE SHOW GO ON? – most embarrassing moments…

The ceremony finished 20 minutes early, so Jerry Lewis tried to fill the airtime with some stand-up and by getting all the stars to sing repeat versions of ‘There’s No Business Like Showbusiness’. They said it.

Presenter David Niven stopped in mid-flow by a streaker flashing a peace sign.

The head-scratching, toe-curling ‘Proud Mary’ duet between Rob Lowe and… Snow White. So bad that Disney threatened to sue the Academy for ‘unauthorised and unflattering use’ of their character.

David Letterman’s smarmy hosting of the entire show, featuring Sadie, the spinning dog, and the now mythically unfunny ‘Uma…Oprah…’ routine.

Just one example of Debbie ‘Fame’ Allen’s legendarily crass Oscar dance routines, here setting the plaintive ‘Saving Private Ryan’ score to a tap-dance.

And the Winner Is…

1973 – more for Niven, whose classy, stiff-upper-Brit recovery line was ‘Just think, the only laugh that man will probably ever get is for stripping and showing off his shortcomings.’ Top hole, sir!

DAHLING, YOU LOOK MAHVELLOUS – not everyone’s a fashion victim

Bjork (2000) –
The Icelandic warbler’s swan body stocking came with a toy egg that she ‘laid’ on the red carpet. Crazy pixie.

Cher (1985)
Dressed in a black Vampirella outfit with bejewelled loincloth, metal breastplate and Mohawk headpiece, Cher deadpanned ‘I did receive my Academy booklet on how to dress like a serious actress.’ You think that’s funny – two years later, she won.

Lizzy Gardiner (1994)
Winning costume designer for ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’, Gardiner’s American Express dress, made from 254 Gold Cards, made her an overnight fashion icon.

Isaac Hayes (1971)
Apparently the ‘Shaft’ singer’s sleeveless chainmail T-shirts and $200,000 in jewellery were considered formal wear in the blaxploitation era.

Trey Parker & Matt Stone (1999)
The South Park boys go drag racing, Stone copying Paltrow’s pink gown from the previous year, Parker mimicking J.Lo’s revealing Grammy outfit.

And The Winner Is…

Lizzy Gardiner – not only does she look great, but if a dress can both overshadow and show up the ludicrous fashion parade that the red carpet has become, this is it. American Express even bought it off her afterwards.

BIGGEST BLUBBERS – those overwrought acceptance speeches

Halle Berry (2001)
‘Oh my God, oh my God…(sob, sob)…this moment is so much bigger than me… It’s for every nameless, faceless woman of colour who now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened…(sob, sob)’

Sally Field (1984)
‘The first time I didn’t feel it but this time I feel it, (sob) and I can’t deny the fact that you like me – right now, you like me!’ Not any more.

Tom Hanks
‘Here is my mark, and there is where I'm supposed to look and believe me, the power and the pleasure and the emotion of this moment is a constant speed of light (sob)…’ Huh?

Gwyneth Paltrow (1998)
‘I would not have been able to play this role had I not understood love of a tremendous magnitude…(sob, sob)’

Mira Sorvino (1995)
‘When you give me this Award, you honour my father Paul Sorvino, who has taught me everything I know about acting…(sob)’. Cut to Paul Sorvino. Sobbing.

And The Winner Is…

Halle Berry – yes it’s great that a black actress finally won again but people have exhibited more dignity having a stroke than Berry’s podium histrionics. You’ve won an Oscar, love, not brought down apartheid.

YOU KNOW WHEN YOU’VE BEEN MIRAMAXED – the Oscar campaigners supreme

Il Postino (1994) – switched a year-old Italian movie with a dead star into a 5 times nominee including Best Picture. Posted the soundtrack CD to each Academy member - miraculously delivered the Best Score Oscar.

Sling Blade (1996) – nobody had heard of Billy Bob Thornton till Miramax bought his film, getting him nominated for Best Actor and winning Best Adapted Screenplay.

Life is Beautiful (1998) – the buffoon Benigni’s comic gurning somehow landed 7 nominations and, incredibly, won Best Actor. If Weinstein can sell a holocaust comedy, all bets are off.

Shakespeare in Love (1998) – a deserved Best Picture success, but the first time that Miramax beat rival marketing juggernaut DreamWorks (‘Saving Private Ryan’) to the big prize.

The Cider House Rules (1999) / Chocolat (2000) – bland, pretty films that end up with multiple nods (7 & 5 respectively), including Best Picture. Yet no one you’ve ever spoken to thinks they’re actually that good.

And The Winner Is…

Chicago / Gangs of New York / The Hours. A trick question. This year Harvey Award-Banger outdid himself again with a total of 40 nominations, including an almost guaranteed Best Picture with one of the three listed here. Can anyone stop him?


Laurence Olivier accepting his honorary Oscar, 1979.

‘Mr President and governors of the Academy, committee members, fellows, my very noble and approved good masters, my colleagues, my friends, my fellow students. In the great wealth, the great firmament of your nation's generosities this particular choice may perhaps be found by future generations as a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it - the prodigal, pure, human kindness of it - must be seen as a beautiful star in that firmament which shines upon me at this moment, dazzling me a little, but filling me with warmth of the extraordinary elation, the euphoria that happens to so many of us at the first breath of the majestic glow of a new tomorrow. From the top of this moment, in the solace, in the kindly emotion that is charging my soul and my heart at this moment, I thank you for this great gift which lends me such a very splendid part in this, your glorious occasion. Thank you.’
Well, at least he didn’t burst into tears.

Runner Up:
Joe Pesci – Best Supporting Actor for ‘Goodfellas’ (1990)
‘It’s my privilege, thank you.’
His entire speech was five words. More amazingly, not one of them was ‘muthafxxxx’.

BEST PARA-OSCAR - because handicaps are always an advantage

Daniel Day-Lewis – My Left Foot (1989)
Method man Dan actually paralysed his own body and painted his house using just his left peg. Allegedly.

Tom Hanks – Forrest Gump (1994)
Hanks does retarded. Just like a box of chocolates, you knew exactly what you were gonna get.

Dustin Hoffman – Rain Man (1988)
Hoffman goes autistic. Cruise goes artistic. Hoffman wins Oscar. Cruise not even nominated. What a shock.

Al Pacino – Scent of a Woman (1992)
A 6-time Oscar loser, playing a suicidal, blind war veteran? More chance of him going a whole film without bellowing ‘HOO-HAH!’ than missing out again.

Geoffrey Rush – Shine (1996)
How do you jump from obscure Aussie stage actor to big movie star? Play a gibbering loony pianist of course!

And the Winner Is…

Tom Hanks – surely the only fair way to decide is a straight sprint to the podium? Compared to his disadvantaged competitors, Hanks storms it. Run, Forrest, run!

MOST SHAMELESS TRADE AD – If the campaigners had their way, this year’s Best Actor race could be…

Ben Affleck – Changing Lanes
More chance of growing old with J.Lo

Pierce Brosnan – Evelyn
Looking a little shaken and stirred isn’t enough

Billy Crystal – Analyze That
Did the people who placed the ad actually see this dross?

Matthew Lillard – Scooby Doo
You’re shitting me.

Mike Myers – Austen Powers in Goldmember
When they start a category for Best Overacting with Funny Accents, he’s a lock.

And The Winner Is…

Matthew Lillard There is no rational explanation. Vaguely amusing if it’s a pisstake, very, very scary if they’re serious.


Be Long: epic length – 2? hours+ - means you must have something important to say (Gandhi, Titanic)

Be Historical: few contemporary films ever win – you need to go back at least fifty years (Ben-Hur, Gladiator)

Be Serious: award winning isn’t a laughing matter (even rare exceptions like The Apartment and Annie Hall are bittersweet).

Be Uplifting: triumph of the spirit stuff always goes down well (Rocky, Braveheart)

Be Well-Read: adapt a beloved book / play, it smacks of prestige (Gone With the Wind, Amadeus)

Be Male: only two women have ever been nominated for Best Director. The shame.

Be the Sentimental Favourite – helps if you’ve never won before or about to die (Henry Fonda, Jessica Tandy)

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