'Slumdog' takes 8 Oscars; Winslet collects her first

"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, including best director honors for filmmaker Danny Boyle.

Kate Winslet, named best actress for "The Reader," provided a shot of glamour, and "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 momentum midway through the evening as Anthony Dod Mantle won the prize for cinematography. It then brought back-to-back Oscars to Rahman, 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 Harvey 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 Jan. 22, 2008, of an accidental overdose 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, the 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 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." (partialdiff)