We always get a bit nostalgic around the Academy Awards. After all, with over 100 nominations and 20 Oscars, Focus Features has had a reason to attend the awards ceremony for nearly every year of its 15-year history. We’ve seen our talent take home three Best Actors, and two Best Directors, and sat nine times with Best Picture nominations. As another magical night at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles approaches, we take a moment to recall some wonderful memories of years past.
Adrien Brody's historic kiss
In 2003, our first year at the Oscars began with a bang––albeit a soft, wet one. Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, the eye-opening story of a Polish musician, Władysław Szpilman, who eluded the Nazis by hiding out in the Warsaw Ghetto, was up for seven Academy Awards. It won three: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay (Ronald Harwood), Best Director (Roman Polanski), and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Adrien Brody).
When Brody climbed up on stage after hearing his name, he didn’t reach out for the award. Instead he gathered the presenter, Halle Berry, into his arms and kissed her passionately. The unplanned embrace reminded many of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic 1945 photo, “V-J Day in Times Square,” which captured the spontaneous kiss of two strangers and the nation’s joy for the war’s end. Still recovering from the smooch, Brody joked to Berry, "I bet they didn’t tell you that was in the gift bag.”
The moment caught everyone off guard. USA Today’s Susan Wloszczyna commented, “Who could blame women for wondering in unison, through tears and smiles, 'Who is that guy?'" But more emotional was the standing ovation he received at the end of his acceptance speech after calling for a “peaceful and swift resolution” to the conflicts in the Middle East.
Watch The Pianist now on iTunes.
A princely presenter for a spontaneous performance
Nominees for Best Original Song often get the unique honor of performing their work during the Academy Awards. Not so for the Uruguayan-born Jorge Drexler, whose lilting ballad, "Al otro lado del río" (“On the Other Side of the River”), from Motorcycle Diaries, was up for Best Original Song at the 2005 Oscars.
The show's producers, fearing Drexler wasn’t a big enough name for the show’s ratings, asked Carlos Santana and Antonio Banderas to perform the song instead. But when Drexler won, he saw his opportunity to remedy the situation. Rather than deliver the typical acceptance speech, he sang his famous tune a cappella in the time he was allotted. Even better for Drexler, Prince presented the award. Before receiving his golden statue, Drexler kneeled to pay his respect to the high priest of pop.
Watch Motorcycle Diaries now on iTunes.
Sixteen nominations! 2006 was a very, very good year
In 2006, Focus Features received 16 Academy Award nominations, more than any other distributor that year. In addition to the eight nominations for Ang Lee’s Western romance, Brokeback Mountain, Fernando Meirelles’ international thriller The Constant Gardener was up for four, and Joe Wright’s adaption of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice got four nods as well. In one category, Best Music (Original Score), all three films were nominated with Brokeback Mountain's Gustavo Santaolalla ultimately winning.
In the end, Focus was honored with four statuettes that night. Brokeback Mountain received awards for Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay (Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana), and Best Director (Ang Lee). And Rachel Weisz won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Constant Gardener.
Brokeback Mountain did not win Best Picture as many expected. But in accepting his Best Director award, Lee summed up––to much applause––what it meant to make the movie: “Their names are 'Ennis' and 'Jack' and they taught all of us who made Brokeback Mountain so much about, not just all the gay men and women whose love is denied by society, but just as important, the greatness of love itself.”
Watch Brokeback Mountain now on iTunes.
Watch The Constant Gardener now on iTunes.
Watch Pride & Prejudice now on iTunes.
Sean Penn: “I did not expect this.”
In 2009, Gus Van Sant’s Milk, a moving biopic about slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, received eight nominations. By the end of the night, Dustin Lance Black took home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Sean Penn won for Best Actor.
In a change from previous shows, the 81st Academy Awards had not one, but five previous Best Actor Oscar winners––Robert De Niro, Adrien Brody, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Douglas and Ben Kingsley––on stage to award Penn his statue. To a standing ovation, Penn joyously uttered, “Thank you. Thank you. You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns. I did not expect this.”
While Penn had previously won Best Actor in 2004 for his role in Mystic River, he was no less excited or grateful to be back on stage. Perhaps more so. In his speech, the actor took a moment to remind the audience how poignant and relevant Harvey Milk’s story is today. Only a few months earlier, California voters had passed Proposition 8, a statewide referendum that eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry. He said, “For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support." And then to loud applause, he added, “We've got to have equal rights for everyone."
Watch Milk now on iTunes.
Christopher Plummer proves you’re never too old for a first time
In 2012, when Christopher Plummer won for Best Supporting Actor for his fabulous turn as the newly out gay dad in Mike Mills’ Beginners, he also received a second distinction. At 82, he became the oldest actor to ever win an Oscar. The eternally elegant and erudite Plummer gave a touching, funny speech that began with him addressing the golden statue personally: “You're only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?”
Ever the professional, Plummer had not arrived for his award unprepared. Rather than unfold a crumbled piece of paper from his coat pocket, Plummer had memorized his entire acceptance speech beforehand.
Watch Beginners now on iTunes.
One word says it all for Eddie Redmayne
When Eddie Redmayne got to the stage in 2015 to accept his Academy Award for Best Actor for his transformative performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything, he discovered just how emotional it is to win. Before dedicating the Oscar “to all those people around the world battling ALS,” he was so overcome by joy that his only response was to do a happy dance and utter a single word, “Wow!”
The next morning, he received one more accolade. Hawking himself posted this message to his Facebook page: “Congratulations to Eddie Redmayne for winning an Oscar for playing me in The Theory of Everything movie. Well done Eddie, I’m very proud of you."
The next year, Redmayne was up for Best Actor again for playing the title character in another Focus film, The Danish Girl. While he didn’t win, his costar Alicia Vikander did, for Best Supporting Actress. In the midst of her joyous, tearful acceptance speech, she pointed to Redmayne in the audience, saying, “Eddie, there you are. Thank you for being the best acting partner. I could never have done it without you.”
Watch The Theory of Everything now on iTunes.
Watch The Danish Girl now on iTunes.