The 10 best film award acceptance speeches - video

As we enter awards season, we'd like to thank these past winners

Hattie McDaniel, 1940

Best supporting actress Oscar for Gone With the Wind

Twenty-three years before Sidney Poitier's best actor win, and 61 before Halle Berry's for best actress, Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Gardenias in her hair, sequins down her gown (an outfit Mo'Nique paid homage to when she won the same award in 2010), McDaniel's speech is equal parts humility and gravitas: "I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel. And may I say thank you and God bless you." She keeps it sob-free, too, walking off with hankie, and dignity, intact.

Charlie Chaplin, 1971

Honorary Oscar

An almost unrecognisable, semi-exiled Chaplin looks deeply affected by the standing ovation that welcomes him on stage. The trippiness of the atmosphere after a full five minutes of claps and bravos is compounded by a microphone glitch that gives his speech a God-like echo. "Oh, thank you so much. This is an emotional moment for me, and words seem so futile, so feeble. I can only say that… thank you for the honour of inviting me here, and, oh, you're wonderful, sweet people." It was only his second Oscar (he'd won a first, also honorary, in 1929) but not his final: he picked up the best score Oscar for Limelight the following year.

Isaac Hayes, 1972

Best original song Oscar for Shaft

Hayes picks up points for coming to the ceremony dressed as a faux-shearling hearth rug, and for dedicating the award, after brief nods to the Academy and Stax, to "a lady who's here with me tonight, because years ago her prayers kept my feet [on] the path of righteousness, and that's my grandmother… [In] a few days it's her 80th birthday and this is her present from me." Here's hoping they sang the song which won the award - "Who's the black private dick/ That's a sex machine to all the chicks?/ Shaft!" - while she cut the cake.

Sasheen Littlefeather, 1973

For Marlon Brando's best supporting actor Oscar for The Godfather

It's not really an acceptance speech – Brando's Apache emissary refuses the gong offered by (fabulously mismatched) presenter duo Liv Ullmann and Roger Moore for The Godfather. But her reasons for the refusal - "the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee" - make this a ballsy, and awkward, awards moment, the more so because of Littlefeather's unimpeachable courtesy: "I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that... we will in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity."

Alfred Hitchcock, 1979

American Film Institute's lifetime achievement award

In 1968, Hitchcock won his sole (honorary) Oscar and said: "Thank you" - just that. Eleven years later, as toast of the AFI, he spoke for six minutes and was lugubriously amusing for all of them (the allotment-sized flower arrangement in front of him helps, too). Hitch's thanks this time had a direction: his wife, Alma. "Had the beautiful Miss Reville not accepted a lifetime contract without options as Mrs Alfred Hitchcock some 53 years ago, Mr Alfred Hitchcock might be in this room tonight, not at this table but as one of the slower waiters on the floor."

Gerda Weissmann Klein, 1995

Alongside director Kary Antholis, winner of best documentary short Oscar for One Survivor Remembers

The elderly subject of this Holocaust film accompanies director Kary Antholis on to stage then, after he's spoken, and as flunkies try to usher her off, puts the whole knees-up in sobering context: "I have been in a place for six incredible years where winning meant a crust of bread and to live another day… in my mind's eye I see those who never lived to see the magic of a boring evening at home. On their behalf I wish to thank you for honouring their memory and you cannot do it in any better way than… when you return to your homes tonight to realise that each of you who knows the joy of freedom are winners."

Jake Gyllenhaal, 2006

Wins the GLAAD award for outstanding service to the lesbian, gay and transgender community

It's usually viewed as a bit of a cop-out to tape an acceptance speech while backstage on your next film, for it to be piped into the auditorium in lieu of flesh and blood. But Gyllenhaal seems honestly sorry to be missing the bash at GLAAD, honouring him for his work on Brokeback Mountain. In his low-key way he hits all the right buttons: humbled, flattered, embarrassed ("I will earn this because I haven't yet") and eager to protest that all he's done is to be part of a generation who "believe a story like that is a story that [is] equal to any other love story". Rarely can absence have more effectively made the heart grow fonder.

Mickey Rourke, 2009

Wins the Best actor Golden Globe for The Wrestler

Sean Penn might have won the Oscar, but the assortment of frequently weepy, oft-inappropriate speeches Rourke made in the run-up stole his thunder. At the Independent Spirit Awards, he gave an affectionately meant shout-out to Eric Roberts ("I don't know why in the last 15 years ain't nobody give him a chance to show his shit again because Whatever he did 15 years ago should be forgiven"). At the Baftas, he thanked his publicist for sexual guidance, and Marisa Tomei for letting him see her naked. Best of the bunch is his damp-eyed Golden Globe tribute to all his dead pets, "because sometimes when a man's alone all you got is your dog".

Roman Polanski, 2010

Wins Best film and best director at the European Film Awards

Anyone who's ever conducted a webcam chat with someone of advanced years, particularly if only one party's camera is turned on, may be able to imagine how it felt to watch Polanski, 77, beamed into a concert hall in Tallinn through the magic of Skype. The occasion was the European Film Awards, at which Polanski won four awards for The Ghost. Cue return virtual visits to his chalet and to a fixed grin the size of a bus. Polanski says nothing of especial interest, but his good humour, especially at the end, as an Estonian girls' choir belts out something folksy beneath his massive face, is impressive indeed.

Juliette Binoche, 2010

Wins Best actress at the Cannes film festival for Certified Copy

Cannes can get emotional. Last year alone, best director Apichatpong Weerasethakul thanked "spirits and all the ghosts in Thailand" and tried to kiss the jury, best actor Javier Bardem lavished love on Penelope Cruz and best actress Binoche rallied for the release of Iranian director Jafar Pahani, then on hunger strike in a Tehran prison. "It's a tough battle to be an artist and an intellectual," she said, holding aloft a placard bearing his name. It worked – briefly at least: Pahani was freed three days later, before being rearrested in December, and sentenced to six years in jail, with a 20-year ban on film-making or talking to the media.


Catherine Shoard

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The 10 best film award acceptances - in pictures

As we enter awards season, we'd like to thank these past winners

Catherine Shoard

16, Jan, 2011 @12:05 AM

Article image
The awards season is upon us and again the critical buzz surrounds the indies. So why can't popular films win Oscars?

The race for film's most coveted awards has begun. Jason Solomons sifts through the hype to predict which movies will be lead the field next spring

Jason Solomons

28, Nov, 2010 @12:07 AM

Article image
Close up: what would you ask the man behind the most successful British film in years?

That was the week in which Colin Firth was crowned best actor at the Golden Globes, Bafta lavished 14 nominations on the film … and we asked you to send us your questions for The King's Speech director Tom Hooper

20, Jan, 2011 @6:06 PM

Article image
The British film industry is worth fighting for
Government cuts will damage our ability to tell the world about our national culture

Gurinder Chadha

11, Feb, 2011 @7:23 PM

Article image
How The King's Speech has revived the British film industry
A favourite for Baftas and Oscars, the UK Film Council funded project was passed over by both Film4 and the BBC

Andrew Pulver and Xan Brooks

11, Feb, 2011 @7:32 PM

Article image
The King's Speech … now it's just getting silly | Close up Guardian film newsletter

First the Globes, then the Baftas, then the box office, then the Oscars. Is there anyone who isn't bowing down before the king?

27, Jan, 2011 @5:06 PM

Article image
Jason Solomons's Trailer Trash
Oscar-nominated Brits turn up the pressure on Bafta, Norman Foster makes an embarrassing noise… and Trash loses a grand but gains an opportunity, writes Jason Solomons

Jason Solomons

30, Jan, 2011 @12:04 AM

Article image
The King's Speech director Tom Hooper answers your questions – live!

Yesterday, you pitched him over your posers. From 12:20 this lunchtime, Tom Hooper will be taking to the throne to answer your questions

21, Jan, 2011 @11:29 AM

Article image
Peter Mullan's Neds join Bafta's list of Scots missed | Jane Graham

The Oscars didn't sub Neds – the film wasn't eligible for the awards. But Bafta is another matter. And it's not the first time Bafta has turned its nose up at a Scottish film

Jane Graham

26, Jan, 2011 @3:37 PM

Article image
A critic's view of the Baftas 2011

The King's Speech's 50:50 win ratio surely positions it as favourite for the Oscars, writes Catherine Shoard

Catherine Shoard

14, Feb, 2011 @1:15 AM