Winning an Academy Award is half the battle.
After the presenter calls your name, you have to gracefully make your way up to the stage ― without falling mind you ― take the golden statuette in your hands and then deliver an authentic, but rehearsed, funny, but respectful and moving, measured acceptance speech, as the likes of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and, oh yeah, the world judge you.
In the words of Melissa Leo, “When I watched Kate [Winslet] two years ago, it looked so f**king easy!”
Actresses, in particular, often find their words hyper-scrutinized come Oscars night, as their “thank yous” and “I love you moms” are picked apart to determine their likability on a scale from Hathaway to Lawrence. We demand an incredible amount from these women in the few minutes they have onstage ― “Stick man, I see you” ― so let’s take a moment to appreciate some of the finest moments in Oscar history for those lucky enough to take home the award for Best Actress.
Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side” (2010)
All the reasons behind Sandra Bullock's success -- her sly wit, underdog quality and ability to somehow be both quirky and tremendously graceful at the same time -- are on full display during her acceptance speech for the sports drama, "The Blind Side." Whether it's her acerbic opening line ("Did I really earn this or did I just wear you all down?") or the gut-busting references to her fellow nominees ("Meryl, you know what I think of you and you're such a good kisser."), Bullock makes you laugh, cry and want to call mom in three minutes or less. You can take or leave "The Blind Side," but her performance and remarks that night were pure Oscar gold.
(Warning: Jesse James appears in this video. Avert your eyes.)
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook" (2013)
How could we not mention the fall that started it all? Jennifer Lawrence tripping on her way up the stairs to accept the award for her performance in "Silver Linings Playbook" marked the zenith of the American sweetheart mania that dominated the 2013 awards season.
Her time onstage might have been brief, but Lawrence's trademark self-deprecation and unfiltered humor proved to be an irresistible combination. For someone of her age -- she is the second youngest Best Actress Oscar winner ever -- to be recognized on this level was a star-making moment few could forget. And that dress! #Dead 😵 .
Halle Berry, "Monster's Ball" (2002)
Halle Berry's acceptance speech was a defining moment in the history of the Academy Awards, not only because she was the first black woman to receive the award, but also because few actresses have been so emotionally exposed on the Oscars stage. We're watching this at our desk 14 years later and can barely keep it together. From the second presenter Russell Crowe announced her name, Berry was overwhelmed by the significance of her triumph, citing black actresses of past and present as equally deserving of the award.
"This moment is so much bigger than me," she began her speech. "This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. It's for every nameless faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened."
Julia Roberts, "Erin Brockovich" (2001)
The dress, her megawatt smile, that laugh, the endearing speech -- pretty much everything about Julia Roberts' night at the 73rd annual Academy Awards was perfect. As the reigning American sweetheart of the moment, Roberts probably could have said just about anything onstage and then flash that smile to make the audience erupt in applause and laughter.
Before the thank yous, the actress made sure to tell the person who cues the get-off-the-stage music that she's going to be there for a while.
"I'm going to spend some time here to tell you some things," she said. "Sir, you're doing a great job, but you're so quick with that stick, so why don't you sit. I may never be here again."
And has there ever been a better closing line than, "I love the world. I'm so happy. Thank you!"
Shirley MacLaine, "Terms of Endearment" (1984)
Before we get into the speech, let's take a moment to admire presenter Liza Minnelli's '80s mullet and uncomfortable delivery. OK, moving on.
If you haven't seen "Terms of Endearment" yet, grab a box of tissues and some comfort food and prepare to sob in the fetal position for several hours because it's just that good. Shirley MacLaine's performance as half of a mother-daughter duo that puts the Gilmore girls to shame is one of fierce intensity and honesty. Also, after refreshing our memories with some YouTube clips we can't stop yelling, "Give my daughter the shot!"
MacLaine, who had been working her way up to the Oscars stage for 26 years, delivered an eloquent, focused and frequently hilarious speech that ended with a universally relevant statement about the interplay of life and art.
"Films and life are like clay, waiting for us to mold it," she told the audience. "God bless that potential that we all have for making anything possible if we think we deserve it. I deserve this. Thank you."
Sally Field, "Places in the Heart" (1985)
Perhaps the most famous sentence in Oscar acceptance speech lore is "You like me. You really like me," uttered by Sally Fields as she took home the award for her performance in the Depression-era drama "Places in the Heart."
Except that didn't happen.
What she actually said was, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.” Apparently we're all super thirsty to belong or be liked by someone and just ran with the misquote. That one line has dwarfed Fields' performance, as well as the rest of her acceptance speech, which was short, but utterly charming. This occasion marked the actress' second time on the Oscars stage for the award, but as she mentions in her speech, this time means so much more. What shines through is Fields' infectiously earnest personality and a sincere appreciation for being respected again from the people who matter most.
Gwyneth Paltrow, "Shakespeare In Love" (1999)
Apart from the honor of being recognized for her performance in "Shakespeare in Love," Gwyneth Paltrow also single-handedly brought the color pink back into style, so she deserves #AllTheAwards.
Paltrow, who was only 26 years old at the time, could barely catch her breath and hold back the tears as she thanked all those who had contributed to her success. Beating out acting stalwarts like Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep ("I don't feel very deserving of this in your presence," she told Streep), was no easy feat, but Paltrow's time onstage proved that she was there for a reason.
The actress almost kept it together, until she mentioned her family -- mom and fellow actress Blythe Danner watched on from the audience.
"I would not have been able to play this role had I not understood love of a tremendous magnitude and for that I thank my family," she said. "To my Grandpa, Buster who almost made it here tonight ... I want you to know that you've created a beautiful family who loves you and loves each other more than anything and we thank you for that."
Someone pass the tissues, please.
Hilary Swank, "Boys Don't Cry" (2000)
We made sure not to forget Hillary Swank from this list ... because she famously forgot to thank her then husband actor Chad Lowe. Ironically, as Swank was being honored for the film "Boys Don't Cry," her husband Lowe did just the opposite in the audience, shedding tears as wife mentioned just about everybody but him. Lena Dunham gave Lowe a much deserved shout-out during her Golden Globes acceptance speech in 2013, saying "I also promised myself that if I ever got this chance, I would thank Chad Lowe. I'm sorry! I just promised. And I promised my mom."
Apart from that low(e) moment, Swank's speech stands on it's own as an important marker of Hollywood's increasing awareness of transgender stories. In "Boys Don't Cry," Swank played Brandon Teena, a real-life transgender man whose life was cut far too short.
"I want to thank Brandon Teena for being such an inspiration to us all. His legacy lives on through our movie to remind us to always be ourselves," she said in the closing. "I pray for the day when we not only accept our differences, but we actually celebrate our diversity."