The Academy Awards are, for the most part, an elegant and tightly controlled affair. But wacky things can and do happen sometimes — and those are the moments viewers remember the most.
Since the Oscars are on Sunday and since there are now 10 best-picture nominees, we've decided to double the weekly Five Most list with a look at the 10 most bizarre moments in the show's history. So here they are, in no particular order — because really, it's an honor just to be nominated:
The streaker (1974): Just as host David Niven was about to introduce Elizabeth Taylor, a naked man came running across the stage behind him, flashing a peace sign. (It was the '70s.) The whole place naturally went wild with laughter, but Niven, being the epitome of British class and cool, didn't miss a beat. He deadpanned: "Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen. But isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?"
Marlon Brando sends Sacheen Littlefeather on stage (1973): Brando won best actor for his iconic portrayal of Don Corleone in "The Godfather." But he refused to accept the award, and instead sent a woman who said she was an Apache named Sacheen Littlefeather to speak on his behalf. Brando was protesting what he believed to be stereotypical treatment of Native Americans in the film industry. Littlefeather's speech drew a mixture of applause and boos, as well as questions about whether she was truly a Native American herself.
Rob Lowe's duet with Snow White (1989): Allan Carr injected an element of high camp when he took over as producer of the Academy Awards. He was, after all, the man behind such splashy movie musicals as "Grease" and "Can't Stop the Music," and he won a Tony for the Broadway hit "La Cage aux Folles." But his Oscar ceremony is considered one of the biggest flops in the show's history. It included a 20-minute opening dance number with a squeaky-voiced Snow White-lookalike singing "Proud Mary" with Lowe, who was then at the height of his hotness. Just try and watch it without cringing.
Bjork's swan dress (2001): Being notoriously daring and different as she is, Bjork dazzled and bedeviled everyone when she showed up at the planet's most-watched red carpet in a white, fluffy gown with a swan's head draped around her neck. (The Icelandic singer and actress was nominated for best original song for "I've Seen It All" from Lars von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark.") It is arguably the most famous outfit ever worn to the Oscars. It inspired many a Halloween costume.
Jack Palance's one-armed push-ups (1992): Palance already had been nominated for an Oscar twice before, both for best supporting actor, for 1952's "Sudden Fear" and 1953's "Shane." Four decades later, when he finally won the award for the comedy "City Slickers," he proved he was just as virile as ever at 72. In the middle of a raunchy acceptance speech, in which he was explaining how reluctant producers can be to cast older actors, Palance stepped away from the podium, dropped to the stage and did a series of one-armed push-ups. Who wouldn't hire him?
Robert Benigni's seat climbing (1999): Speaking of acrobatics, there's Benigni. Ever the clown, the Italian actor and director couldn't just walk up on stage and give humble, teary-eyed thanks when his "Life Is Beautiful" won the Oscar for best foreign-language film. Instead, he leaped from one seat back to another, whipping the audience into a frenzy, before hopping up the steps and giving presenter Sophia Loren a long, tight bear hug. ("Life Is Beautiful" also earned a best-actor Oscar for Benigni and one for its original score.)
"Ordinary People" beats "Raging Bull" for best picture (1981): Not so much a wacky moment but a befuddling one. How could the Academy get this one so wrong? In retrospect, Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" emerges as a small masterpiece, intimately powerful in black and white, gorgeous — even its brutal violence. "Ordinary People," Robert Redford's directing debut, feels like a respectable and well-made if austere family drama. But that's not as bad as ...
"Dances With Wolves" beats "Goodfellas" for best picture (1991): Ten years later, the Academy gets it wrong again, and Scorsese is on the losing end again. Sure, Kevin Costner's "Dances With Wolves" is a sweeping epic, visually impressive in its enormity, but looking back it feels condescending and a little corny. "Goodfellas," meanwhile, is an example of Scorsese's virtuoso filmmaking at its finest — funny, brash, evocative and always riveting. Scorsese eventually got his due, though, with Oscars for best picture and director for 2006's "The Departed."
You like Sally Field (1985): "Places in the Heart" earned Field her second best-actress Oscar — the first came for 1979's "Norma Rae" — but this one meant more to her, she said in her acceptance speech as she clutched the golden statue, giddy and beaming. This time, she said she finally felt the respect of her peers: "I can't deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!" It's a line that would be endlessly parodied — and misquoted.
The "South Park" guys show up in drag (2000): Trey Parker and Matt Stone arrived to support the feature film version of their animated series, "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," which earned Parker and Marc Shaiman an original-song nomination for the jaunty "Blame Canada." But they couldn't just wear tuxes like everyone else. Since they've made a career out of skewering celebrities, Stone donned a replica of the pink gown Gwyneth Paltrow wore a year earlier when she won best actress for "Shakespeare in Love," while Parker wore a knock-off of the plunging green Versace number Jennifer Lopez famously filled out at the Grammys. So much chest hair ... and so hilarious.
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