We all love Oscars night, right? It’s a celebration of movies and candy for the eyes – those movie stars scrub up pretty nicely – and there’s always half a chance someone will do something so entirely bonkers that you’ll have to queue to get near a water cooler come Monday morning. (Roberto Benigni, we’re looking at you.) In a few cases of art imitating life, the ceremony has also featured on the big screen too, giving us a peek behind the velvet curtain. Here are Oscar’s on-screen cameos.
The whole girl-meets-boy, boy-makes-girl-star, boy-goes-on-almighty-bender-makes-girl’s-life-a-misery tale gets a fresh Hollywood spruce every 20 years or so (sometimes with a sex-swap), but the first run through gave the viewing public an early peek at the infant awards ceremony. Vicki Lester (Janet Gaynor), winner of Best Actress for the very Oscar-friendly sounding ‘Dream Without End’, is given the mic to make her speech. “There are only two words that really mean anything,” she offers shyly before her husband Norman Maine (Fredric March) drunkenly stumbles to the stage, stealing her thunder with dark muttering about her new golden “bric-a-brac” and his own failing career. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been counting on the Academy age-old secret weapon against awkward moments: yup, the jaunty orchestra play-off. Game over, Norman.
Here they are again – in colour. But if the Oscars offer arguably the key scene between Gaynor and March in William Wellman’s drama, it’s the same scene in George Cukor’s remake that really sticks in the mind. Hysteria? Drunken stumbling? Mortification? Oh yes. Judy Garland’s troubled-but-talented starlet Vicki Lester (again) is on stage at Grauman’s Chinese Theater to collect her long-cherished Oscar when husband and mentor, Norman Maine (James Mason this time), ramraids her limelight. Not even the hugging power of a dozen Roberto Benignis could cheer up poor Vicki as Hollywood’s great and good gaze down on this slow-motion train wreck.
Being a megastar is not as easy as it seems, because sometimes there are unhinged people out there who may become dangerously obsessed with you. This is why God invented buff men with earpieces. Protecting the hugely talented is all in a day’s work for former Secret Service man Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner) who has to shepherd superstar Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston) through an Oscars ceremony without leaving her open to assassination. This task is complicated by his growing feelings for her and the fact that someone out there seems to want to take her out with a hatred rarely inspired by a woman whose voice can lull angels to sleep and heal the infirm. Mick Johnson’s thriller sees Marron winning the big gong and, thanks to K-Cos, getting away with her life too. Double win! The scene was shot in eight days using 1000 extras and cost $200,000 a day to film.
This comedy made a bold stab at twisting prejudice into laughs – it’s definitely funnier than Philadelphia, the film that indirectly inspired it – and offers one of the most memorable Oscar-on-screen moments. It happens as newly-garlanded Best Actor Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) takes to the stage and proceeds to out his old English teacher, Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline), in front of the entire world. This, while more interesting than Gwyneth Paltrow’s Oscar speech, has the unfortunate consequence of unleashing Tom Selleck’s moustache investigate reporter and a phalanx of other pressmen on the small town of Greenleaf, Indiana, where poor Howard and his fiancee (Joan Cusack) suddenly find his sexuality is the story of the day. Cusack scored an Oscar nomination of her own for the film. She didn’t win, but we’d love to have heard that speech.
Camper than a tipi sale, this amped-up bad-taste classic takes a breather to show Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) listening in to the 1946 Oscars. Hollywood’s grande dame won Best Actress for Mildred Pierce but was terrified of missing out on the night and, suffering from a (possibly strategic) fever at the time of the ceremony, received her Oscar from director Michael Curtiz in her bedroom. Luckily, she just happened to be made-up and dressed in a fetching robe and jewellery when the press arrived to snap her with her prize, rather than the way most people look when they’re sick, all red nose and thermal PJs. Sadly, such diva-style antics are no longer acceptable. Since Marlon Brando’s antics back in 1973, the Academy has insisted that winners turn up to collect their awards in person, so nowadays Joan would have to face the music in person.
Despite blowing a ginormous raspberry at all kinds of Academy sensitivies, Tropic Thunder got an access-all-areas pass to the Oscars. Ben Stiller’s action-comedy travels from Hollywood to the jungles of South East Asia and back again, climaxing with a gala Oscars night that sees Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) emerge from the chaos with a little gold man, presented by new BFF Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr). The expression on Jon Voight’s face – a direct reference to his Midnight Cowboy loss back in 1970 – as Speedman basks in the glory that eluded him with Simple Jack is priceless. All in all, a valuable reminder that in Hollywood, cynicism, jealousy and petty-mindedness can make your dreams come true.
The role that bagged Maggie Smith her second Academy Award also carved a little piece of movie history: the great Dame was the first and only Oscar winner to win her prize by playing an Oscar loser, movie star Diana Barrie. This comedy of manners is set during the lead-up to the event and was even partly shot outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the actual 50th Academy Awards. Looking for vérité? Well, look, there’s the real Richard Burton on a TV monitor at the real Oscars. Director Neil Simon took a pretty big chance here. We don’t need to know science to tell you that if anyone ever tries to reprise all this art-imitating-life madness in a Maggie Smith biopic and they win an Oscar for it, all existence as we know it will be sucked into a vortex.
The final instalment in the bizarrely brilliant cop series saw a climactic showdown take place at the Academy Awards when cop Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) masquerades as TV host Phil Donohue and infiltrates the Oscars to foil a terrorist bomb plot. He mucks up the teleprompter presentation with Raquel Welsh, causes considerable crotch-clutching agony during a song and dance number, and – on discovering that the danger is inside the envelope announcing the Best Picture winner, shouts, “It’s the bomb!”, causing the producers of underperforming nominee “Sawdust and Mildew” to run merrily towards the stage, sure that they’ve won. The producers resolve not to invite Phil Donohue back the following year. After this performance, we can’t blame them.