In an effort to shorten the length of Oscar winners’ acceptance speeches, last year the academy asked nominees for a list of people to thank and then those named were scrolled at bottom of the screen as they had their say at the podium. But did it do any good in shortening the show’s total running time? Sort of.
The program still clocked in at three hours, 37 minutes, and while that was six minutes shorter than the previous year, it was after midnight when all of the awards were presented. And that marathon length isn’t even among the 10 lengthiest Academy Awards ceremonies.
The telecast with the dubious distinction of running the longest took place in 2002 and clocked in at four hours, 23 minutes. What took so long? For starters, there was Halle Berry’s emotional acceptance speech, understandable since her win for “Monster’s Ball” made her the first — and still only — African-American to win a best actress Oscar. Also that night, Sidney Poitier, the first black male to win a best actor Oscar (for 1963’s “Lilies of the Field”) received an 85-second standing ovation when he accepted his honorary Oscar.
The Oscar telecast passed the four-hour mark on two other occasions. The 2000 presentation ran four hours, nine minutes thanks to an assault of musical numbers from host Billy Crystal’s parodies of the best picture nominees to a medley of past original song winners performed by Garth Brooks, Isaac Hayes and others. In 1999, the theme that the show must go on — and on and on — led to a four-hour, two-minute running time. Blame the length on an interpretive — and interminable — dance performed by an international troupe to introduce the original score nominees, and best actor winner Roberto Benigni leaping over what seemed like every seat in the theater as he made his way to the stage.
Maybe the current academy members can take a cue from the first, low-key Academy Awards, which was held on May 16, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. After a dinner of fillet of sole, broiled chicken, string beans and long branch potatoes, the awards were doled out — all in a matter of 15 minutes.