The best Oscar speeches from Sally Field to Rita Moreno

Anyone with a TV and a broadband connection remembers the very famous Oscar acceptance speeches. We’re talking about Jennifer Lawrence stumbling on her way to the podium, Marlon Brando sending Indigenous activist Sacheen Littlefeather to accept her award, and of course Sally Field’s infamous speech where she never says, “You like it. You really love me.”

But there’s a whole bunch of people who not only know what Field really said, “You like me. Right now, you like me,” but almost every other speech in Oscar history. These are the people who not only fall down the rabbit hole watching Oscar speech after Oscar speech on YouTube, but consider it a hobby. Sometimes the obsession becomes so strong that it interferes with their life.

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“In order to reward myself for the work I have done, whether it is finished or not, I will find a video of a speech that I like to watch, and inevitably I am led down this winding path of reviewing old videos of my favorite winners,” says Andres D, a 21-year-old trader and college student from Newport Beach. “Before I knew it, my math homework was due 20 minutes ago. It’s an interesting combination of not caring enough about being disturbed to finish my homework and being genuinely interested and entertained by all of this different talk.

With the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday, expect a lot of commotion this week — from the public, Academy members, and especially the more opinionated corners of film Twitter — about the evolution of television broadcasting, of its hosts, its presenters, even its guests, and its relevance or lack thereof. But one thing is clear, and that is the passion for this show, which even at its lowest last year drew some 10 million viewers. Just watch the hobby of binge-watching acceptance speeches.

Although it’s hard to quantify precisely, when I asked for volunteers on Twitter I received hundreds of responses from people (mostly gay women and men, naturally) who told me they sometimes wasted hours a month flipping from award-winning video to award-winning video as if Hollywood glamor was the only thing keeping them alive.

Jennifer Lawrence just before receiving her Best Actress Oscar in 2013.

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“During awards season, I watch them almost every day. Throughout the year, that’s usually how I spend my nights the week before I get my period,” says Anne Hollister, actress and writer in Los Angeles who also makes parody videos of acceptance speeches on her social media accounts.”My favorite way to watch them is in my bed, on my laptop, snuggled up with a box of Sno-Caps .”

From my (admittedly unscientific) investigation, binge eating usually starts in two ways. Either someone watches a movie or TV show featuring a past winner and decides to go get their big moment, or it’s someone just looking for a pick-me-up (see Andres, who can’t finish his math homework). Everyone continues the same way, with this algorithm that knows us so well that continues to put more and more Oscar videos in the sidebar next to the video. Next thing you know, poof, the computer is as warm as Death Valley and YouTube is like, “Girl, do you really need another one?”

“I’m not sure exactly how long it lasts, but sometimes it’s a ‘Wow now, it’s dark’ vibe, when I’m just clicking, clicking, and clicking,” says Chloe Drescher, digital marketer at New York.

Adam Gorsine, a teacher in New York, even has a little game he likes to play a few times a month when he does a “I’d like to thank God and Meryl Streep” bender.

84th Annual Academy Awards
Meryl Streep winning her third Oscar, for her performance in The Iron Lady, in 2012.

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“I’ll start with, say, Rita Moreno and then see how many steps it takes me to get back to where it’s a suggestion of what to watch next,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll write the number of steps it took me to go from Emma Stone to Leonardo DiCaprio and then back to Emma Stone.”

Even Oscar nominees aren’t immune to these tantrums. In a recent interview, Kristen Stewart, who is up for Best Actress this year for her lead performance in spenceradmitted that she enjoys going through past acceptance speeches herself.

“It’s really fun to dig in and watch people have their moment. And some people really dropped the ball. Some people are so emotional,” she told Awards Watch.

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So how do these Oscar junkies come about?

“I think the first time I watched an award show carefully was when Anna Paquin won. I would have been 7 at the time,” says Louis Virtel, writer for Jimmy Kimmel live and host of the Keep It podcast. “I don’t know if it was a kid or what, but it made me think there was something special about holding an award and thanking people in the dark.”

Virtel says he is really in a hurry for the videos. “There’s a real endorphin kick of a surprised look you see on someone’s face when you see them winning,” he says. “The reaction is more important than the speech. The Oscars nailed the split-five screen which is one of the most dramatic things you can expect from television in general or from an awards show.

Dr. Racquel Gates teaches a unit on acceptance speeches in her Black Film and Media class at Columbia University. “I show historic acceptance speeches from black winners,” she says. “They give you an interesting window into the politics of the time, the discourse around those nominations and victories.”

But it’s not just the political aspect that makes certain speeches electrifying. “How many uncontrolled opportunities do you have to see celebrities without any safeguards?” Gates asks. “That’s the problem with watching the Oscars and the speeches is that they can put all the settings they want, but there’s always a danger and a risk when you watch live TV. We’re waiting all those moments, even the grimacing ones.

89th Academy Awards Press Room
Viola Davis after winning her Oscar for Fences in 2017.

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As for what makes a good speech, everyone I’ve spoken to says it’s about authenticity, about sounding genuinely surprised or emotional, about showing the audience what’s really dear to that artist when given 60 seconds in front of, perhaps, the biggest audience of their lives.

vanity lounge recently did a recap of the most popular speeches on the official Oscars YouTube account. Number one was DiCaprio’s, which currently has nearly 48 million views, so, yes, there are a lot more people streaming these speeches than you might think. He is followed by Matthew McConaughey, Heath Ledger and Kate Winslet.

The top three is surprising because most people I spoke to said they started binging with actresses. As for their favorite speeches, Olivia Colman’s came up often with almost everyone I spoke to. Viola Davis’ victory for Fencesby Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovitch and the hubbub surrounding whether or not The Earth Where Moonlight won the award for best film. (Although not an Oscar speech, Merritt Wever’s wonderfully edgy Emmys win also came up often.)

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The reasons for liking these speeches may have as much to do with the celebrities as they do with the people who re-watch them. Many said they enjoyed reliving these ceremonies, where they were and what they were doing at the time. The other big reason cited why these bring so much fun is the kind of inspiration you won’t find in a poster of a kitten saying, “Hang on.”

“I love seeing the people I love in movies get rewarded and you see someone’s best moment,” says Boston-based television news producer Dylan Shue. “If you watch 12 people’s best moment, you feel pretty good and you feel like you can go out and make your own dreams come true.”

Whether those fans are looking for a little lift, a good shoutout, or just to watch Anne Hathaway say, “It’s come true,” the enduring appeal of these clips comes down to one simple, universal rule. When it comes to award shows, people love them, they really do.

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