I can hardly remember what I ate for dinner last night (reheated crockpot Ethiopian chicken stew?), much less who won the Oscars 20 years ago. But I can never forget “Uma, Oprah” and “Oprah, Uma,” the mantra from David Letterman’s epic fail in 1995 as host of the 67th Annual Academy Awards. The Mid looks back—and sees stars with less Botox—in our recap of milestone years at the Oscars.
1995: The Year of the ‘Gump’
Magic Moment: Forrest Gump star Tom Hanks went super-humble while accepting Best Actor—beating The Shawshank Redemption‘s Morgan Freeman and Nobody’s Fool star Paul Newman, who had to make that painful “I lost but I’m not disappointed” face for the camera. Between weepy gulps that somehow did not create tears, Hanks said, “I feel as though I’m standing on magic legs,” and, yes, remembered to thank wife Rita Wilson, goopy-eyed in the audience. It was the year of the Gump, which won Best Picture, Best Director for Robert Zemeckis and Best Adapted Screenplay for Eric Roth. But what a year: Also nominated for Best Picture were these classics: Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Quiz Show.
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Dave Drops the Ball: Among the top 10 reasons why Letterman would never step out from behind his desk and host the Oscars again was this quote from the New York Observer: “As the evening dragged on, it became obvious that Mr. Letterman had no gift for ad-libbing through the few unpredictable opportunities in a ‘live’ event like the Oscars.”
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Charge It, Please: While model-turned-actress Elizabeth Hurley rocked the winter white trend in sparkly, figure-hugging Versace, the night’s most-buzzed-about dress wasn’t worn by an actress. Costume designer Lizzy Gardiner accepted her Oscar for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in a golden self-made sheath created from 254 expired American Express cards.
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2005: ‘Million Dollar Baby’, It’s You
I’d Like to Thank My Husband, While He’s Still My Husband: Best Actress winner Hilary Swank, who won for Million Dollar Baby, which swept Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor, owned the night’s most awkward relationship moment. The two-time winner said, “I’m going to start by thanking my husband because I’d like to think I learned from past mistakes.” Swank continued, giving props to then husband Chad Lowe, whom she overlooked when she got her first Oscar, for Boys Don’t Cry: “Chad, you are my everything.” Until you’re not: The pair divorced the following year.
Meanwhile, a bearded Robin Williams made a stream of dirty jokes while delivering the Best Animation award, emphasizing that cartoons are for grown-ups, too. He joked: “They tell me now that Spongebob is gay. Squarepants is not gay. … Spongebob Hotpants? You go, girl.” Then he gave the award to The Incredibles.
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Chris Rock Sinks like a Stone: Rock boldly went where Letterman failed a decade earlier, as host of the toughest room in Hollywood, the Oscars. Before the actor-comedian walked onstage, the first African-American man to solo-host the event stepped in controversy when he told EW: “Come on, it’s a fashion show. No one performs; it’s not like a music show. What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars? Show me one.” And it was downhill from there—the Academy’s attempts to attract a younger, hipper demo with Rock floundered. But when he dissed Jude Law as a second-tier star in a throwaway joke, even Sean Penn stood up for his fellow thespian and piled on Rock, who became another one-time host.
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Good Girl in Front, Badass Back: Swank was among the best-dressed in a skintight, midnight blue Guy Laroche gown that was high-necked in front but nearly exposed butt cleavage in the trunk. The night’s fashion loser was Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow, who chose to show off her post-baby body in an ill-fitting pink satin Stella McCartney corset number that pinched where it should have pushed.
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2010: Store It in ‘The Hurt Locker’
First Things First: The 82nd Academy Awards was a groundbreaking year. Kathryn Bigelow became the first female to win Best Director (for her Oscar-winning war movie The Hurt Locker, which the New York Daily News cited as “… the lowest grossing movie to ever win Best Picture … “). She did not cry in her acceptance speech. Relief! It was also the year that the Academy expanded the Best Picture field to up to 10 nominees from five. The point was to give blockbusters like Avatar, also nominated, a better chance. It didn’t work, although crowd favorite Up became only the second animated film to be nominated for Best Picture.
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Twice the Host, Double the Failure: A desperate Academy paired famed comedy team Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin to host the night, who regaled millions around the world with such zingers as Martin’s “Meryl Streep holds the record for most nominations as an actress. Or, as I like to think of it, most losses.” (Sacha Baron Cohen had been considered and rejected as “too much of a wild card.”) Roger Ebert criticized the pair’s opening monologue as “surprisingly unfunny.” When will AMPAS ever learn—or will this year’s host, Neil Patrick Harris, best Letterman, Rock, Baldwin and Martin, and last year’s host, Ellen DeGeneres, in this frustrating gig?
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Best Actress, Best Dressed: Sandra Bullock pulled out the Oscar for The Blind Side, a female-driven drama that didn’t woo critics or the industry but topped the box office. She also defined class wearing a gold Marchesa gown to match her statuette. On the flip side, the statuesque Charlize Theron tried to look fashion-forward in a pink-and-purple satin Dior number that had what may have been rosebuds, or sticky buns, emblazoned on each modest breast.