Rags-to-riches drama “Slumdog Millionaire swept the board at the 81st Academy Awards here Sunday, winning eight Oscars including best picture on a night of high-voltage Hollywood glamour.
The feel-good film about a Mumbai tea boy who rises from poverty and enters a television quiz show to win millions and find the love of his life, won eight of the nine categories in which it was nominated at the Kodak Theater.
The acting honors saw Sean Penn triumph for his portrayal of murdered gay politician Harvey Milk in the biopic “Milk while Britain’s Kate Winslet ended her Oscars losing streak for her performance in Holocaust drama “The Reader.
There was a tear-jerking posthumous Oscar for late Australian actor Heath Ledger, a moment of unforgettable poignancy that reduced the star-studded audience to hushed silence.
But it was the triumph of “Slumdog Millionaire that stole the show, with more than a dozen members of the Bollywood-inspired movie’s cast and crew crowding the stage to receive best picture from Steven Spielberg.
“We had passion and we had belief and if you have those two things, truly, anything is possible, said producer Christian Colson.
The “Slumdog Oscar-haul included best director honors for British filmmaker Danny Boyle, best adapted screenplay for Simon Beaufoy and a brace of Academy Awards for Indian composer A.R. Rahman, who won for best song and original score.
It was a fairytale night for “Slumdog, which had been nearly released directly to video last year after losing its US distributor, a move which would have ruled it out of Oscars contention.
The best picture award brought the curtain down on a revamped Oscars ceremony that had earlier seen Penn and Winslet carve up the top acting honors.
“Thank you, you commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns. I did not expect this, joked Penn after collecting the second best actor Oscar of his career.
Penn used his acceptance speech to urge opponents of same-sex marriage – recently banned in California – to rethink their positions.
“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, he said.
“We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.
Best original screenplay winner Dustin Lance Black for “Milk offered an impassioned tribute to Milk.
“If Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he would want me to say to all the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told they are less than by the churches, by the government, by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value, and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours, Black said.
Winslet, 33, meanwhile won her first Oscar after five previous defeats, for her portrayal of a former Nazi death camp guard who starts a love affair with a teenage boy in post-war Germany and is later put on trial for war crimes.
Winslet admitted she had been dreaming of Oscars gold for a very long time.
“I’d be lying if I haven’t made a version of this speech before. I think I was probably eight years old and staring into the bathroom mirror and this would have been a shampoo bottle, she told the audience.
“It’s not a shampoo bottle now, Winslet quipped. “I feel very fortunate to have made it all the way from there to here and I’d like to thank some of the people along the way who had faith in me.
Earlier Heath Ledger’s family took to the stage to collect the tragic star’s best supporting actor honor for his portrayal of Batman villain the Joker in “The Dark Knight.
“Heath, we both knew what you had created in the Joker was extraordinarily special, and had even talked about being here on this very day, Ledger’s sister Kate said. “We really wish you were, but we proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful daughter Matilda. Thank you, she added.
“The Dark Knight had a second win, for sound editing.
Spanish star Penelope Cruz won the best supporting actress prize for her part in the steamy Woody Allen comedy “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
“Has anybody ever fainted here? Because I might be the first one, Cruz said, who went on with warm thanks to Allen. “Thank you, Woody, for trusting me with this beautiful character. Thank you for having written all these years some of the greatest characters for women.
It’s the fifth time an Allen film has earned a performer a supporting-acting honor. Cruz joins past Allen collaborators Dianne Wiest, a dual Oscar winner for “Hannah and Her Sisters and “Bullets Over Broadway ; Michael Caine for “Hannah and Her Sisters ; and Mira Sorvino for “Mighty Aphrodite.
Period romance “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which began the night with 13 nominations, ended the night with only three Oscars in the technical categories of art direction, makeup and visual effects.
“Man on Wire, James Marsh’s examination of tight-rope walker Philippe Petit’s dazzling stroll between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, was chosen as best documentary.
Japan’s “Departures, a film about a man who prepares bodies for burial, won the Oscar for best foreign language film in an upset over the favored Israeli film “Waltz With Bashir.
Pixar’s blockbuster “WALL-E won the best animated feature award.
After last year’s Oscars delivered their worst TV ratings ever, producers this time aimed to liven up the show with some surprises and new ways of presenting awards. Rather than hiring a comedian such as past hosts Jon Stewart or Chris Rock, the producers went with actor and song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman, who has been host of Broadway’s Tony Awards.
Instead of the usual standup routine, Jackman did an engaging musical number to open the show, saluting nominated films with a clever tribute.
Offering a nod to “Slumdog Millionaire, Jackman crooned, “Just a humble slumdog, sitting in a chair, of a millionaire. He hauled best-actress nominee Anne Hathaway on-stage to stand in as Richard Nixon in a gag tune about fellow best-picture nominee “Frost/Nixon and asked the question in song – why don’t comic-book movies get nominated? – a dig at Oscar voters’ best-picture snub of “The Dark Knight.
It was something of an inside joke, since Jackman himself has starred in the “X-Men comic-book adaptations and this summer’s “Wolverine spinoff.
Jackman later did a medley staged by his “Australia director Baz Luhrmann with such performers as Beyonce Knowles and “High School Musical stars Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron.
In the most noticeable break with the past, the show called on giants of the acting world to introduce each individual nominee in the acting categories, a ploy that heightened the anticipation inside the theater.
As usual, stars of the silver screen literally shone on the red carpet bringing excitement, style and old-fashioned glamour to the event.
Shimmering gowns of gold and silver; glittering crystal, sequins and beading were the most popular choices for the icons of the movie industry on the most famous fashion runway in the world. -Agencies