- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2009

UPDATED:

It was a night for all the “Slumdogs” out there at the 81st annual Academy Awards, as the British-Indian flick cleaned up at the Oscars and helped underscore the movie industry’s increasingly international flavor.

“Slumdog Millionaire” took home the awards for best picture, best directing for Danny Boyle and best adapted screenplay for Simon Beaufoy. In total, the Dickensian tale of Indian poverty and love in the slums nabbed eight statues by cleaning up in the technical and musical categories.

It’s only the eighth best picture winner in the last 75 years to not nab a single acting nomination.

LIST OF WINNERS:Click here.

Hopping up to the stage in “the spirit of Tigger,” as he once promised his children that he would should he take home this prize, Mr. Boyle was his usual energetic self.

Corrected: “You have been so generous to us this evening,” he said of the academy, and then made sure to thank Mumbai. “All of you who helped us make the film, and all of you who didn’t, thank you so much. You dwarf even this guy,” he said while lifting his newly-won stauette.

Several “Slumdog” winners were Indians and one, sound mixer Resul Pookutty, called his trophy “history being handed over to me” and a validation of the whole country and its prolific “Bollywood” film industry, by some measures the biggest in the world.

Composer A.R. Rahman, one of the biggest names in Bollywood, made brief allusion when accepting the second of his two awards, for the song “Jai Ho,” to “all the people of Mumbai.” Mr. Rahman, a Muslim whose initials stand for Allah Rakha, said that “all my life I have had the choice of hate and love. And I chose love and I’m here.”

He closed his acceptance speech for the best score award by saying in his native Tamil, “God is great.”

The most emotional moment in the show came during Heath Ledger’s win for supporting actor, one of only two wins for the $1 billion worldwide grossing blockbuster, “The Dark Knight.”

In one of the star-studded presentations, Christopher Walken, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alan Arkin, Kevin Kline and Joel Grey - all of whom had previously won the award - presented the trophy to the father, mother and sister of Mr. Ledger, who died of an overdose last year. Mr. Ledger became the second person, after Peter Finch for “Network,” to win a posthumous acting prize.

“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,” said his father, Kim Ledger, in the trio’s acceptance speech, during which such glitterati as Brad Pitt and Adrien Brody fought back tears.

“Heath Ledger as the Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ kept us all on edge, anxious to see what act of appalling mischief he might commit next. With this bravura performance … Heath Ledger has left us an original and enduring legacy,” presenter Mr. Kline said.

All four acting prizes were presented with tribute to each of the nominees from a former winner in that category. The best actress award was presented by Sophia Loren, Shirley McLaine, Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman and Marion Cotillard, and the best actor award by Ben Kingsley, Anthony Hopkins, Mr. Brody, Michael Douglas and Robert DeNiro.

In the most competitive race of the evening, Sean Penn edged out Mickey Rourke for best actor.

“You commie, homo-loving sons of guns,” Mr. Penn said as he accepted his trophy for playing Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay elected official, in the biopic “Milk.” “I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me, often. But I am touched by the appreciation.”

He also denounced people who voted for California’s Proposition 8 against gay marriage that “it is a good time for those who voted for” the measure “to anticipate their great shame” in the eyes of future generations.

Paying tribute to Mr. Penn’s versatility, presenter Mr. DeNiro “wondered” aloud about him, “how did he get all those roles as straight men?” over the years.

Supporting actress was the first award of the night, as Eva Marie Saint, Whoopi Goldberg, Goldie Hawn, Anjelica Huston and Tilda Swinton presented the award to Spain’s Penelope Cruz for her role in “Vicky Christina Barcelona.”

Miss Cruz, acting almost entirely in her native Spanish in the bilingual Woody Allen film, became the third woman to be directed to a supporting actress win by Mr. Allen and just the sixth person to win an acting Oscar for a role principally in a foreign language.

“Has anybody ever fainted here? I might be the first one,” she said, before thanking Mr. Allen “for trusting me with this great role.”

She also played up the international element of the awards in an increasingly global film market by thanking Spanish directors “my friend” Pedro Almodovar, Bigas Luna and Fernando Trueba for giving her the roles that made an international star, and by giving the last part of her acceptance speech in Spanish, in which she paid tribute to “all the actors in the country.”

Kate Winslet finally took home her first best actress victory for her role in “The Reader,” leaving Deborah Kerr and Thelma Ritter as the only actresses to have six nominations without a win.

“OK, that fainting thing, Penelope,” she gasped as she came to the stage.

“I feel very fortunate to have made it from there to here,” she said, adding that she had been rehearsing this speech since she was 8 years old in the bathroom. But “it’s not a shampoo bottle now.”

Both screenwriting Oscars went to contenders for best picture - Dustin Lance Black took the award for his original screenplay of “Milk” while Mr. Beaufoy won adapted script for “Slumdog Millionaire,” the first of several early awards for this year’s little movie that could.

Mr. Black, who is openly gay, used his speech to say that Mr. Milk “gave me hope that I could live my life openly as who I am, and maybe one day even fall in love and get married.”

He paused for a second to give the audience time to applaud before launching into a message for “all gay and lesbian children … you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value no matter what” churches and the state might say and one day “you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours.”

As expected, Pixar’s “Wall-E” won the best animated film - the Disney-affiliated studio’s fourth victory in six years. When introducing the animated awards, in fact, presenter Jack Black said that every year, he takes his paycheck from doing voice acting in a Dreamworks animated film and goes to his bookie on Oscar night “and places the money on Pixar.”

“So sorry, [Jeffrey] Katzenberg, I don’t know why we let him out of the house,” co-presenter Jennifer Aniston “apologized” to the Dreamworks chief.

Accepting the award, “Wall-E” director Andrew Stanton thanked his school drama teacher “Phil Perry for casting me as Barnaby in ‘Hello, Dolly.’ Creative seeds are sown in the oddest places.”

When Japanese filmmaker Kunio Kato accepted the best animated short award for “La Maison en Petits Cubes,” he gave thanks through his weak English but got a big laugh with one of the best-known Japanese phrases to English speakers and fans of ‘80s rock band Styx - “Domo arigato, Mister Roboto.” Another Japanese film scored perhaps the night’s biggest upset, with “Departures” by director Yojiro Takita, winning the best foreign-language film.

But in one of the expected results, “Man on Wire” took home best documentary. James Marsh and Simon Chinn, the film’s director and producer, respectively, took to the stage to accept the award, and called the documentary’s French subject - daredevil Phillippe Petit - up to the stage to join them.

“The shortest speech in Oscar history: Yes,” exclaimed Mr. Petit, before adding that he’d like “to thank the academy for believing in magic.” At that point he pulled a coin out of his pocket and made it disappear, then took one of the Oscar statues and balanced it on his chin.

“They didn’t deserve to win for that,” snarked presenter Bill Maher.

The technical awards were given in an order that mimicked the order of movie production - from script to art direction to costume design to makeup and then to such post-production categories as sound effects and editing. “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” did best in those categories - the former winning for script, cinematography, editing and sound mixing, while the latter took home trophies for art direction, makeup and visual effects.

Other changes were designed to shorten the always-lengthy running time. One was the creation of a medley out of the three best song nominees instead of individual performances; that alteration cost the show Peter Gabriel’s participation.

But there was time for comedy and levity. Steve Martin and Tina Fey did a smart and funny bit in front of the writing awards, and Ben Stiller did a wicked parody of former Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix’s recent appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman” when “helping” present the cinematography award.

Despite a pre-show controversy over some gay slurs he had used, Jerry Lewis received a standing ovation and wild applause from those gathered at the Kodak Theatre in accepting an award for his work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

“For all that he has given back, from one Nutty Professor to another, it is my pleasure and honor to present the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to Mr. Jerry Lewis,” presenter Eddie Murphy said.

“For most of my life I thought that doing good for someone didn’t mean you would receive commendation for that act of kindness,” said Mr. Lewis. “This award touches my heart in the very depth of my soul.”

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