The Best Oscar hosts & speeches of all time

A look at some classic moments from the Academy Awards

After weeks – scratch that, months – of award shows celebrating more or less the same films and performers time and again, it might be hard to drum up any enthusiasm for the granddaddy of them all, the Oscars, which take place on Sunday night.

That sense of fatigue is the same every year, and yet once that curtain races on the Academy Awards, it’s hard not to get swept up in all the razzmatazz once more.

This year, as has been the case for the past decade or so, there doesn’t seem to be awful lot of room for surprises on the night. By this stage in the awards cycle, the Oscars are not so much a contest as a coronation, so the only potential for any kind of sparkle or fun comes from the host and, to a lesser extent, the acceptance speeches.

With that in mind, and in the vein of the ‘In Memorium’ segment during each year’s ceremony, let’s take a moment to remember a selection of the hosts and the speeches that still have the power to make us LOL…

And please feel free to add your own favourites in the comments below.

The recent hosts…
*Billy Crystal: This year’s host (replacing dropout Eddie Murphy) previously hosted the awards on eight occasions, and is famed for a recurring shtick where he sings a medley of the Best Picture nominees to the tune of well-known songs.
For example, in 2003 he serenaded Clint Eastwood and his movie Mystic River to the tune of Henry Mancini’s ‘Moon River’. “Other men his age or either dead or dying, but not Clint Eastwood, he just keeps rolling along,” Crystal sang.
In later years Crystal kicked off ceremonies by showing a short film with him edited into key scenes from nominated films. A particular favourite was in 1997, when Crystal popped up as the well-endowed would-be stripper in the audition scene of The Full Monty. When Robert Carlyle and the others gasp at the sight, Crystal says: “What? Too Jewish?”

*Whoopi Goldberg: The sassy comedienne brought a far raunchier tone to her four stints as compere. For instance she made her entrance at the 1999 ceremony dressed to the nines as Queen Elizabeth I. “I am the African Queen,” she proclaimed. “Some of you may know me as the Virgin Queen, but I can’t imagine who.”
When Goldberg re-appeared on stage a little later as herself, she seemed to be still removing the make-up with a small towel. “Wow, you knew it’d be so hard to get a virgin off your face?”

*Jon Stewart: The quick-witted ‘Daily Show’ host presented the ceremony twice, and while his first stint died a death, his second was far more polished.
It was 2008, and in the midst of the epic race for the Democratic presidential nomination between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
“It’s such an historic race,” Stewart said. “Normally when you see a black man or a woman president, an asteroid is heading towards the White House. How else will we know it’s the future?!”

The classic hosts…
*Bob Hope: The legendary comedian hosted the ceremony 18 times between 1939 and 1977, and is still lovingly remembered for his classy, old-school MC duties, clips of which can be found online. Hope himself received five Oscars, but none for acting, moving him to quip at one ceremony: “Welcome to the Academy Awards, or, as it’s known in my house, Passover”.

*Johnny Carson: The talk show legend hosted five times, and was a master at both flattering the Hollywood stars in attendance and slamming them at the same time. “I see a lot of new faces in the audience,” he once joked. “Especially on the old faces.”

*David Niven: The British actor co-hosted the awards three times, but he will be forever remembered for his quick wit after a streaker ran across the stage at the 1974 bash. Niven immediately responded: “Just think, the only laugh that man will ever get is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings”.

*Jack Palance, taking to the stage to accept the award for Best Supporting Actor for City Slickers, grumbled about his co-star and the show’s host, Billy Crystal: “I crap bigger than him.” He then dropped to the floor to do a set of one-armed press-ups to prove his vitality.
*Watch the clip of Martin Landau winning the Best Supporting Actor award in 1994 for Ed Wood. Defeated nominee Samuel L Jackson (Pulp Fiction) can clearly be seen mouthing, ‘Aw shit!’ in response.
*Jessica Yu, upon accepting the Oscar for Best Documentary Short in 1997: “What a thrill. You know you’ve entered new territory when you realise your outfit cost more than your film.”
*When Michael Caine won Best Supporting Actor for The Cider House Rules in 1999, he devoted most of his speech to praising the four vanquished men in his category. His best line was for Tom Cruise, who was nominated that year for Magnolia: “If you’d won this, your price would have gone down so fast. Have you any idea what supporting actors get paid?”
*Roberto Benigni got a little excited when accepting the Best Foreign Language Film prize, his first of two awards at the 1998 ceremony (the other being, shamefully, Best Actor) for Life Is Beautiful: “I feel like diving into this ocean of generosity. I would like to be Jupiter and kidnap everybody and lie down in the firmament making love to everybody.”
*Composer Randy Newman finally won an Oscar for Best Song for Monsters, Inc in 2004 after 16 consecutive losses. “I don’t want your pity,” he said. “I want to thank the music branch for giving me so many chances to be humiliated.”
*”You Commie, homo-loving sons of guns,” cracked Sean Penn to the audience upon accepting the Best Actor gong for Milk in 2008. Who knew he had a sense of humour?

*Finally, contrary to popular lore, Sally Field didn’t actually cry, ‘You like me! You really like me’ when accepting the 1984 Best Actress Oscar for Places in the Heart. What she actually said was: “I haven’t had an orthodox career and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time, I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”

Words – Declan Cashin