Who did (and didn’t) get standing ovations at Oscars?

One of our forum posters, Opera Junky, kicks off a fascinating discussion about how often the audiences at the Oscars jump to their feet to fete a winner. As he writes:

I was reviewing some clips on You Tube, and something occurred to me. Standing ovations are such strangely irregular occurrences at the Oscars, especially in the competitive acting categories. Some years go by there are no sustained ovations, as in last year with Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Melissa Leo, and Christian Bale. Other years, like this past year with everyone but Dujardin, there are multiple ovations.

I went back and looked at the occurrences of standing ovations throughout the years.  It seems as though the first one [for Best Actor] I can find is Art Carney‘s win in 1974. There wasn’t another one until 1988 when Dustin Hoffman won for “Rain Man.” Since then there have been standing Os in 1989 (Daniel Day-Lewis), 1991-1994 (Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Tom Hanks x2), 1996 (Geoffrey Rush), 1998 (Roberto Benigni), 2001-2004 (Denzel Washington, Adrian Brody, Sean Penn, Jamie Foxx), 2008-2009 (Penn and Jeff Bridges), for a total of 15 occurrences.

Best Actress has been much rarer, the first being 1985 when Geraldine Page won. Then 1987 (Cher), 1989 (Jessica Tandy), 1995-96 (Susan Sarandon, Frances McDormand), 2001 (Halle Berry), 2008-2009 (Kate Winslet, Sandra Bullock), 2011 (Meryl Streep), for a total of nine occurrences.

Trent provides some insight into the issue: 

Standing ovations are given when a veteran wins an Oscar (Bridges), when somebody makes history (Brody, Plummer, Berry), when an actor who overcomes extensive “personal issues” wins (Mo’Nique) or when there’s a great success story behind the win.

Rarely do you see a Frances McDormand-esque standing ovation where it is given for a truly great performance instead of for just being a name. I’m still surprised that Javier Bardem, Christoph Waltz and Christian Bale did not receive standing Os for their incredible performances.

One standing ovation that I cannot explain is Octavia Spencer. She was not a veteran, her win did not make history and she didn;t have any public personal issues. Octavia wasn’t even the best supporting actress in “The Help” (let alone of the whole year) so the standing o was not on merit either.

I am also surprised that Day-Lewis was not given a standing ovation for “There Will Be Blood.” It was the greatest film performance in a long time and he had received an ovation for his first win for “My Left Foot.” Rarely do actors who receive a standing ovation the first time not get it for the second (a la Tom Hanks). 

Carol-Channing offers an explanation: 

I would say that Mo’Nique’s standing ovation had little to do with her personal history and mostly to do with the powerhouse-ness of her performance.  She gave the most critically acclaimed performance of the year.  And it’s the best win the category has ever seen, imo.  Plus, the fact that she surprised everyone and was a stand-up comedian and not considered a “great” “serious” actress and got such acclaim made her win very exciting. I also think Christoph Waltz deserved a standing O for his win that year, but his win didn’t seem to have as much excitement as Mo’Nique’s did.

I think the standing O for Octavia was due to her truly genuine and heartfelt reaction (that night and all awards season). Her reaction to her win was very moving. I also think she was the best in her category a totally deserved it. 

AND it might have had to do with the fact that it took Octavia a little while to get up onto the stage. So people felt inclined to stand as they saw others doing it and still had a while before she was going to speak. Dujardin might had gotten a standing O, but he rushed up to the stage and started speaking pretty quickly.  

As Opera Junky concludes: Some questions to consider: Why do they occur? Are there times where there should have been one when there wasn’t? Join in the debate here


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