"I'd like to thank …"
Those four words should appear in 99.9% of all speeches given on Oscar night. But not every speech has to be a rote list of individual names following that opening. As many winners have proved over the years, the Oscar acceptance can be a genuine outpouring of joy, full of off-the-cuff personal moments, or a chance to get on a soapbox. Who can forget the indelible moments — for better or worse — created by Sally Field, Cuba Gooding Jr., Marlon Brando surrogate Sacheen Littlefeather or one-arm pushup king Jack Palance as they accepted their trophies? Here are some other speeches you may have forgotten were great.
In the year that "Titanic" swept away so many prizes, "Good Will Hunting"— a film written by a couple of unknowns named Ben Affleck and Matt Damon — took home two prizes of its own, including original screenplay. They were so fresh and delighted with the prize that they almost didn't know what to do with themselves. As Affleck tried to give something resembling a normal speech (though he did open up with "I just said to Matt that losing would suck and winning would be really scary"), Damon kept shouting more names to throw into the thank-you list, ratcheting up the fun and the charm.
Joe Pesci (1991)
Producers worrying about the show running too long must have loved Pesci, who picked up his one and only Oscar — supporting actor for "GoodFellas" — with a six-word speech: "It was my privilege. Thank you." Considering that his character in the film was known for running on a bit at the mouth, it was a particularly amusing occurrence.
Gerda Weissmann Klein (1996)
She went up onstage to assist in collecting the Oscar for documentary short and was nearly ushered away without a word but persisted with a calm insistence before the microphone. After all, she was a Holocaust survivor and the subject of the winning short, "One Survivor Remembers." Klein put the whole evening in perspective with a few short words never looking down her nose on the glitz and the glamour: "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 years and faces of those who never knew the magic of a boring evening at home…. Each of you who knows the joy of freedom is a winner."
Tom Hanks (1994)
Few Oscar acceptance speeches can be said to have inspired movies, but that's what Hanks did on his first trip to the podium. He picked up the prize for playing a gay man dying of AIDS in "Philadelphia" and thanked his high school drama teacher in a powerful and moving speech. He'd cleared the name check with the teacher in advance, but they had not discussed Hanks' mentioning he was gay. Turns out, the teacher was cool with it. But what if he had been closeted? Producer Scott Rudin watched the telecast from home, and three years later, the Kevin Kline movie "In & Out" replayed the moment to answer that question.
Jack Palance (1992)
Words won't suffice for everyone, though Palance — a veteran Wwesterns actor who made an indelible comeback in 1991's "City Slickers" — showed how appreciative he was of his Oscar with both word and deed, telling the audience: "Billy Crystal — I crap bigger than him." After speaking, he then left the podium and completed several one-handed push-ups. At the time Palance, who passed away in 2006, was 73 years old.
Laurence Olivier (1979)
Lovers of the art of acting had to have been overjoyed to see true master thespian Laurence Olivier receive an honorary Oscar for his entire body of work in 1979 (he had two others), and Olivier did not let them down, one of the most beautifully articulated speeches ever to be read from an awards stage, noting: "In the great wealth, the great firmament of your nation's generosities, this particular choice may be found by future generations as a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it — the prodigal, pure human kindness of it — must be seen as a beautiful star in that firmament, which shines upon me at this moment, dazzling me a little, but filling me with warmth and the extraordinary elation, the euphoria that happens to so many of us at the first breath of the majestic glow of a new tomorrow."
Louise Fletcher (1976)
Fletcher, who generated true enmity from audiences for her rules-loving, sadistic caregiver Nurse Ratched in 1975's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," got right to the point of things in her speech, telling voters, "Well, it looks like you hated me so much that you have given me this award. And all I can say is — I've loved being hated by you!"
Robert De Niro (1975)
De Niro has two Oscars but has given only one speech, because he missed the ceremony in 1975 when he won a supporting actor Oscar for "The Godfather: Part II." But in 1981, when he took home the lead prize for "Raging Bull,"he more than made up for it thanking the real-life brother (and onetime manager) of Jake LaMotta, the character De Niro played in the film, "even though he's suing us. I hope that's settled soon enough so I can go over to his house and eat once in a while."
Halle Berry (2002)
Becoming the first African American woman to win lead actress in 2002 for "Monster's Ball," Berry was the epitome of overwhelmed and grateful and spent most of her powerful speech in tears, clutching the statuette. "This is for every nameless, faceless woman of color who now has a chance after tonight because this door has been opened," she said. Yes, Denzel Washington also broke barriers with his lead actor win (just the second for a black man) for "Training Day" that evening, but it's Berry we remember for saying, "This moment is so much bigger than me."
Angelina Jolie (2000)
We think of Angelina Jolie as a glamorous worldwide humanitarian, mother and Brad Pitt's significant other. But when she won her supporting actress prize in 2000 for "Girl, Interrupted," she looked a little different — Goth much? — and appeared a bit too effusive in her affection for her brother James Haven, her date for the night, whom she'd already been seen kissing on the red carpet. By the time she noted, "I am so in love with my brother right now," we knew we weren't in the presence of just any ordinary actress. We just didn't know how extraordinary she would become.