'Slumdog' tops Oscars

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"Slumdog Millionaire," a rags-to-riches tale on screen and off, provided a triumphant fairy-tale ending to the 81st Annual Academy Awards on Sunday night when it was crowned best picture.

The $14 million indie movie that fought an uphill battle to win international recognition and nearly $160 million in worldwide grosses took home eight awards in all, including best director honors for filmmaker Danny Boyle.

Kate Winslet, named best actress for "The Reader," provided a shot of glamour, while "Milk's" best actor winner Sean Penn and the movie's winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black delivered impassioned speeches on behalf of gay rights. And in an emotional coda to a career cut short, the late Heath Ledger was remembered as best supporting actor for "The Dark Knight."

Even as the show's producers, Laurence Mark and Bill Condon, worked hard to entertain viewers watching the ABC broadcast far from the confines of the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood -- emcee Hugh Jackman delivered a couple of song-and-dance numbers while making frequent mentions of popular movies that didn't get nominated -- there was no keeping Hollywood from being Hollywood.

On Sunday, that meant that the industry's increasing globalization was on display. Penelope Cruz, the best supporting actress winner for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," concluded her acceptance speech in Spanish, and the developing Asian market received plenty of airtime as such talents as Indian composer A.R. Rahman and Japanese director Yojiro Takita and animator Kunio Kato were celebrated.

Such movies as "Slumdog," "Milk" and "Reader," from studio specialty divisions and indie players, took most of the top prizes, while such sumptuous studio films as "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "The Dark Knight" settled mostly for technical awards.

Accepting "Slumdog's" best picture award surrounded by the movie's multicultural cast and crew -- many of whom had flown in from India for the awards -- producer Christian Colson said, "Together, we have been on an extraordinary journey." Noting that the film had no stars, he cited a script that engendered "mad love" and a "genius" director for its success.

Boyle, the British director who found the film of his career in the streets of Mumbai, could only marvel at the film's reception by the 5,810 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "You've been so generous to us this evening," he said. But he reserved special thanks for the people of Mumbai as he hoisted his statuette, exulting, "You dwarf even this guy, thank you so much indeed."

"Slumdog" earned Simon Beaufoy the adapted screenplay award for his handling of Vikas Swarup's novel. "I certainly wouldn't be standing here tonight without Vikas," he said.

"Slumdog" began to develop its momentum midway through the evening as Anthony Dod Mantle won the prize for cinematography. It then brought back-to-back Oscars to Rahman, the recipient of the statuettes for best score and song, the latter for the upbeat "Jai Ho," which serves as the movie's infectious finale.

"All my life, I've had a choice of hate and love. I chose love and I'm here. God bless," Rahman said in his second acceptance speech.

Penn earned his second Oscar as best actor; he won five years ago for "Mystic River."

"You commie, homo-loving sons of guns," Penn joked as he stepped to the podium. "I did not expect this, and I wanted to be very clear that I know how hard I make it to appreciate me often, but I am touched by this appreciation."

Turning serious, he thanked the film's creators, including director Gus Van Sant, before issuing a fierce call for "equal rights for everyone."

Said Penn, "I think it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame."

Black delivered a heartfelt acceptance speech when "Milk" was hailed for best original screenplay. He testified that learning of Milk had given him hope as a teenager that "I could live my life openly as who I am and then maybe I could even fall in love and one day get married."

Turning to young gay and lesbian viewers watching the broadcast, he said, "You are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value, and no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and ... very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours."

Winslet, on her sixth nomination, finally copped an Oscar, winning for her performance as a German woman harboring lethal secrets in "Reader." She admitted she'd been dreaming of accepting an Oscar since she was a young girl practicing in front of the bathroom mirror. "This would have been a shampoo bottle," she said of her newfound statuette. "Well, it's not a shampoo bottle now."

Ledger's posthumous award for his fiercely psychotic performance as the Joker in "Dark Knight" -- the honor seemed almost preordained -- was accepted by his father, mother and sister. Said his father, Kim Ledger, "This award tonight would have humbly validated Heath's quiet determination to be truly accepted by you all here, his peers, within an industry he so loved." His mother, Sally Bell, added, "Tonight, we are choosing to celebrate and be happy for what he has achieved." His sister Kate addressed her brother, saying, "We really wish you were (here), but we proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful (daughter) Matilda."

Ledger, who died of an accidental overdose on Jan. 22, 2008, became the second performer to win an Oscar posthumously, following Peter Finch, who was named best actor more than 30 years ago for his performance in 1976's "Network."

Cruz took home the first Oscar of the evening for her turn in "Barcelona." Thanking director Woody Allen, whose movies have a way of turning supporting actresses into Oscar winners, she dedicated the award to her parents, brothers and sisters, and her friend, late publicity executive Robert Garlock, who also earned a mention from the stage by Winslet.

French tightrope artist Philippe Petit upstaged James Marsh and Simon Chinn, winners of the best documentary award for "Man on Wire," which recounts Petit's wire-walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. He punctuated his thanks by making a lucky coin given him by director Werner Herzog disappear and balancing the Oscar on his chin.

The Japanese film "Departures," the Takita-directed tale of an unemployed cellist who takes a job in a funeral home, pulled something of a minor upset in the foreign-language film category, where it competed against such internationally known titles as Israel's "Waltz With Bashir" and France's "The Class."

The full list of winners is on the next page.



Nominees for the 81st Annual Academy Awards (winners in bold):

Best picture
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"Frost/Nixon"
"Milk"
"The Reader"
"Slumdog Millionaire"

Director
David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"
Gus Van Sant, "Milk"
Stephen Daldry, "The Reader"
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"

Actor
Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"

Actress
Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Angelina Jolie, "Changeling"
Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"

Supporting actor
Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Robert Downey Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Michael Shannon, "Revolutionary Road"

Supporting actress
Amy Adams, "Doubt"
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"

Original screenplay
Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"
Mike Leigh, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Martin McDonagh, "In Bruges"
Dustin Lance Black, "Milk"
Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete Docter, "WALL-E"

Adapted screenplay
Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
John Patrick Shanley, "Doubt"
Peter Morgan, "Frost/Nixon"
David Hare, "The Reader"
Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire"

Animated feature film
"Bolt"
"Kung Fu Panda"
"WALL-E"

Foreign-language film
"The Baader Meinhof Complex," Germany
"The Class," France
"Departures," Japan
"Revanche," Austria
"Waltz With Bashir," Israel

Documentary feature
"The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)"
"Encounters at the End of the World"
"The Garden"
"Man on Wire"
"Trouble the Water"

Documentary (short subject)
"The Conscience of Nhem En"
"The Final Inch"
"Smile Pinki"
"The Witness -- From the Balcony of Room 306"

Original score
Alexandre Desplat, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
James Newton Howard, "Defiance"
Danny Elfman, "Milk"
A.R. Rahman, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Thomas Newman, "WALL-E"

Original song
"Down to Earth" from "WALL-E," Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman
"Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire," A.R. Rahman and Gulzar
"O Saya" from "Slumdog Millionaire," A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam

Animated short film
"La Maison en Petits Cubes"
"Lavatory -- Lovestory"
"Oktapodi"
"Presto"
"This Way Up"

Live-action short film
"Auf der Strecke (On the Line)"
"Manon on the Asphalt"
"New Boy"
"The Pig"
"Spielzeugland (Toyland)"

Film editing
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Frost/Nixon"
"Milk"
"Slumdog Millionaire"

Cinematography
"Changeling"
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"The Reader"
"Slumdog Millionaire"

Art direction
"Changeling"
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"The Duchess"
"Revolutionary Road"

Sound mixing
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
"WALL-E"
"Wanted"

Sound editing
"The Dark Knight"
"Iron Man"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
"WALL-E"
"Wanted"

Costume design
"Australia"
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Duchess"
"Milk"
"Revolutionary Road"

Visual effects
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Iron Man"

Makeup
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Hellboy II: The Golden Army"
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