Oscar winners reactions

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Just before he died, Heath Ledger had an inkling that he might get a statuette for his performance as the Joker in "The Dark Knight," which earned him a posthumous supporting actor Oscar on Sunday. After alluding to it on the podium, the Ledger family elaborated backstage on a conversation they had with him. "When he came home for Christmas a year ago, he had been sending me shots and bits of pieces from the film," sister Kate Ledger said. "And I said to him, 'I have a feeling this is it for you; you're going to get a nomination for this from the Academy.' And he just looked at me and smiled. So he knew." The family said the Oscar itself will be held in trust in either the U.S. or Australia before being given to Heath Ledger's daughter, Matilda, upon her turning 18. That daughter, family members said, reminds them of her father every day. "You just have to look at Matilda to know she's totally like her daddy. She has the same mannerisms," mother Sally Bell said. "It's a delight to know she's full of the same enthusiasm and energy, and she looks a little like him." Ledger's parents said their son showed early signs of precociousness -- in a way that evoked mixed feelings. "Heath was always watching films and playing the fool and horsing around," Kim Ledger said. "He was very intelligent in a lot of ways, and it always worried me as a parent, because  you've got to find something you're good at and stick to it because you might have to make a buck one day." Asked how her son would have felt going through the awards-season process had he lived, Bell said: "I think he would have been quietly pleased. He was very proud of what he did. Heath was never one to be over-the-top with anything. But I think he would have been quietly pleased that it's recognized by his peers in the industry."

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Well, she finally did it. After walking away empty-handed five times, Kate Winslet won an Oscar for her sixth nomination in 13 years. Her best actress award for her role as a former SS guard in "The Reader" brought her a key realization. "Let me tell you, winning is really a lot better than losing," she said. "A lot better." Winslet recently implied that she was going to stop doing nude scenes, so when asked which actor to whom she would most like to "pass the nude torch," she responded, "I'm going to go for a woman, actually, and be really controversial." After almost a full minute of thought, she simply said, "Susan Sarandon." (Note to Kate: Rent "The Hunger.") On the same subject, Winslet was asked how doing sex scenes for her husband-director in "Revolutionary Road" affected their relationship. "He's used to it," she said. "He'd seen me naked before I'd even met him, for God's sake. The person who was most professional getting through the sexual scenes was Sam. I was pathetic, and he was absolutely brilliant. He's just very accepting of it." Even before Sunday night, Winslet had taken on the aura of inevitability. She had already won the BAFTA, the Golden Globe (for supporting, plus an extra one for leading role in "Revolutionary Road") and the SAG Award. Even still, the honor made her feel like that "little girl from Reading," she said. "My mom won a pickled onion competition just before Christmas, and that was a big deal." To the local newspaper that printed a picture of her mother's winning jar, Winslet held up her statuette and declared, "There's your next Winslet picture."

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Best actor winner Sean Penn extended some of his serious, socially conscious message from the podium to his comments backstage. "What I mentioned from the stage earlier tonight is to see this culture of ignorance, it breeds this kind of hateful expression," he said. "These people had the (anti-gay) signs outside essentially telling you you're less than human." Penn added that he would like to tell them "to turn in their hate card and find their better self." Penn also had some dissenting words for President Obama's stance -- the president has said he opposes gay marriage -- which Penn has said he hopes will change. "I would like to believe that's a political stand right now and not necessarily a future one or a felt one. I don't think any of us, particularly our president, would long be able to take that position because it's not a human luxury. These are human needs, and they will be gotten." Penn also shooed away talk that he and fellow acting nominee Mickey Rourke had any kind of feud over the course of the race. "I've known Mickey for over 25 years. I can't speak for his consistent sense of me because he's an excellent bridge-burner at times," Penn said. But he described a close relationship and said Rourke is  "someone I've alternatively looked up to and advised," adding that Rourke "quite literally had me almost throughout 'The Wrestler' weeping."

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"Milk" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black was not shy about politics when he greeted reporters backstage. Asked about what he'd like to see from President Obama, he said that "a few things I'd love him to do immediately is, repeal 'don't ask, don't tell' and the Defense of Marriage Act." Then he got broader: "For inspiration, we need to look not at Proposition 8 but look back to 1964. No group has ever won full civil rights in this country going state by state, county by county." But he also couldn't resist a more emotional moment. Shedding a tear, he said, "Harvey gave me his story, and it saved my life."



The first award of the night went to Penelope Cruz in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Collecting the award, she asked: "Has anyone ever fainted here? I might be the first one." Backstage, Cruz translated what she said onstage in Spanish. She said that she "dedicated the award to the actors in my country and the people watching at home." Moving to press questions, she said: "I'm going to call ('Vicky' director) Woody (Allen) right now. ... Sometimes just call to say hello. I adore him. He is so funny, peculiar and unique." She continued, "I'm always insecure on set," adding that Allen always said what he liked and didn't like. "He is honest. That's what counts  for me. We trusted in him, and we did the movie in 4 1/2 weeks. I never doubted the genius of Woody Allen." Commenting on her winning role as well her role in "Elegy," she commented: "The roles are very well written. I'm grateful to the directors for giving me that material ... for their faith and trust in me." Asked about her role in the upcoming Rob Marshall-directed musical "Nine," particularly the "A Call From the Vatican" number and Sophia Loren, Cruz said: "I love that number. I think that movie is going to be great. ... Sophia is incredible; she has become like my second mom. She is so real, she will sit down and tell stories about Fellini. She is a women with a heart of gold."

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Michael O'Connor
won his first time out for best achievement in costume design for "The Duchess." He had already pulled down the BAFTA and the Costume Designers Guild Award. "I just hope that it opens more doors and I can afford to be more particular," O'Connor said backstage. "Until this film, none of (my films) have ever been nominated for anything." (Not entirely true: Forest Whitaker won an Oscar for "The Last King of Scotland.")

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Danny Boyle made a case for independent film -- creative and financial: "It was wonderful to see Heath Ledger's work acknowledged in 'The Dark Knight,' which is extraordinary. Heath, like everyone, started small; we have to protect independent film. That is where everybody begins, those small independent movies where you learn your craft. My first film cost 1 million GBP." Producer Christian Colson reported that "Slumdog" cost 7 million GBP to make. "It is going to cross $100 million in the U.S. -- that is good business." The pair also raised the topic of globalization. "Bollywood gave us virtually all our cast and crew; we were Brits trapped in the middle of Bollywood and Hollywood. You can see this is going to happen more and more. The world is shrinking a bit. Cultural fusion is a good thing." Before wrapping,  Boyle gave a shout out to his agent, Endeavor's Robert Newman, admitting that he forgot to do so onstage. Of "Slumdog" Boyle said: "It's a love story, but heavily disguised. ... It is chance to get lost in romance." Speaking of, the pair was asked about a rumored romance between Dev Patel and Freida Pinto. "I have no idea," Boyle said. "It's not true, unless they are lying to me," Colson added.

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Simon Beaufoy
completed his sweep of the major awards by taking home the Oscar for adapted screenplay for "Slumdog Millionaire." On top of a slew of critics awards, Beaufoy had already won kudos from the National Board of Review, BAFTA, the Golden Globes and the WGA. Although he also was nominated for an Oscar in 1997 for his original script "The Full Monty," this was Beaufoy's first trip to the podium, where he was handed his statuette from presenters Steve Martin and Tina Fey. "There are certain places in the universe you never imagine standing," Beaufoy said upon accepting the award. "For me, it's the moon, the South Pole, the Miss World podium and here." Backstage, Beaufoy addressed the momentum of "Slumdog," saying, "It's sort of in the halls of fame now." He was also asked about the young Mumbai actors flown over for the event. He admitted that the filmmakers had some concerns about the appropriateness of bringing them to the "most lavish ceremony. But they're completely cool about it. They're all running around having a laugh. In the end, it was absolutely the right thing to do to bring them over."

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"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" took home its first Oscar when Donald Graham Burt and Victor Zolfo scored the trophy for achievement in art direction. Backstage, the pair fielded a question about whether it was tough working for a director like David Fincher, known for his perfectionism on set. "I'm a perfectionist too, so we sort of go hand in hand," Burt replied. "What he demands from us, we demand from ourselves." Zolfo added: "We know when we walk away from the set, he's going to make it great."



Director Andrew Stanton described "WALL-E" as "the most uniquely personal film that I could have made. I expected it to speak to a minority rather than a majority. This response gives you a lot confidence to listen to that little voice inside you." He said that Pixar Animation Studios' approach to the film was the same as any other at the company. "We've been trying to show that it's a movie -- and we just happen to be using animation to tell it. We are trying to make the most sophisticated film we can with very deep characters, and we assume that if it is well told then any age will understand it." Much has been written about the messages about protecting the environment and complacency, but Stanton said too much was made of those messages. "It's about caring about one another," he said. "I feel that disconnection is going to be the cause of anything bad that happens to humanity. It was connectivity." He added that he is about 18 months into his next film.

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Director James Marsh and producer Simon Chinn wandered backstage after winning the Oscar for best documentary feature along with their "Man on Wire" subject, Philippe Petit. Petit famously walked a high-wire between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, illegally. Marsh's look at the stunt in a post-9/11 world lent "a sense of poignancy about the film that lifts it to another level," Chinn said backstage. Marsh attributed the film's popularity not just to its look at an artistic illegal act but also to the fact that "it's a very beautiful fairy tale that just happens to be true." Petit, who did a magic trick and balanced Chinn's Oscar upside down on his chin before leaving the Oscar stage, clearly relished his renewed notoriety. The 60-year-old prankster let slip backstage that he plans a new stunt in New York in the fall during which he'll walk another high wire to an unspecified library to inspire literacy in children. "I have to keep walking," the Frenchman said. "I am always seeking the ecstatic truth that my friend Werner Herzog is always talking about."

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"It always had magic, right from the beginning," said Chris Dickens, the Oscar-winning editor of "Slumdog Millionaire." He added: "It was such an interesting story. There were challenges, so many different images and story lines. It felt a little lumpy and long." The first-time nominee said the challenge was putting it all together, creating smooth transitions and getting the film to a reasonable length.

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“The slums were obviously extraordinary because we're encroaching on people's lives,” said U.K.-based Anthony Dod Mantle, who won the Oscar for cinematography on “Slumdog Millionaire.” “At the same time, we had got carte blanche and the green light to go in there and basically destroy their daily lives. You’d open a cupboard, and a family of 15 (would) fall out. And that's not something you can control. And even if they say they aren't going to be there, the next five or 10 minutes they will be there, and there will be dogs and all sorts of things coming at you.” Looking back, he recalled a fast schedule and technology testing. “Danny and I were going to make another film actually in America, and it crashed because of financing and kind of expected competition with ‘Benjamin Button,’ so we backed off and had to move very quickly to Mumbai. And even though we had very little time to prepare for Danny's film, it helped that I have known him for five or 10 years and made five films with him. I used state-of-the-art digital equipment in order to work as quick as possible. That was my main brief -- to learn how to run with the boys, learn how to run with them at a certain height, at a certain pace, in a certain, intimate way, and that was a pretty difficult thing, actually, in the slums of Mumbai.”



The Oscar for sound mixing went to "Slumdog Millionaire" and the team of Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty. Onstage, Pookutty said: "I dedicate this award to my country. This is history being handed over to me." Backstage, he elaborated that no technician from India had ever been nominated for an Oscar before. "It is glorious for me and my country. ... Twelve years ago, there was virtually no production sound (in India)."

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In the only category in which "Slumdog" was nominated but did not win, Richard King took home his second Oscar for sound editing on "The Dark Knight." He was previously honored for "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World." Backstage, King admitted that he would like to have seen Chris Nolan nominated for the film's direction, saying "he was the energy behind the entire film." Of his own work, King said: "We basically used the theatrical mix and sweetened it for Imax. The idea was to make it as visceral and powerful as possible. And we maximized it in theatrical 5.1, and we maximized it in the Imax format as far as power and level. It was experimental, really."

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Digital Domain VFX supervisor Eric Barba, DD animation supervisor Steve Preeg, special effects super Burt Dalton and Craig Barron, VFX supervisor at Matte World Digital, accepted the Oscar for VFX for their game-changing work on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." With a win for VFX -- which were largely driven by a CG Brad Pitt, aging in reverse -- along with Pitt's nomination for best actor, Barba commented of the VFX work: "We are taking a performance, but ultimately it's the actor. Brad did an amazing job. This is huge for Digital Domain," added Barba of the film's lead VFX house. "After 'Titanic' (1997 Oscar winner for VFX), we were on top of the world, and after 'What Dreams May Come' (Oscar winner in 1998 for VFX). Then we had a drought. The company went through many changes (Michael Bay and Wyncrest Holdings acquired the privately owned company in 2006). ... I'm so happy with what the company has done. We're back."

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Megan Mylan -- winner of the documentary short category for "Smile Pinki," which follows a poor girl in India who receives free surgery to correct her cleft lip -- related that the challenge for documentaries is to be seen, though they are every bit as creative as mainstream films. The added challenge for short-form, she said, is "the filmmaker has to be more efficient with their storytelling." "Smile Pinki" came in at 40 minutes. Mylan explained: "Each story had its natural length. This is a journey story, a simple story about family and poverty. Pinki's inner beauty gets to be matched with her outer beauty. We decided to focus on her and the people in her life. What is wonderful about the social workers are they don't blame the patents. The families become educators. Children are not always born in our definition of perfection."

Compiled by Jay A. Fernandez, Carolyn Giardina and Steven Zeitchik
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