"Slumdog Millionaire" wins big at Oscars
By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rags-to-riches romance "Slumdog Millionaire" swept the Oscars on Sunday, winning eight awards including the prize for best picture in a climactic triumph for a movie that almost failed to get released.
Among the "Slumdog" honors, Briton Danny Boyle was named best director for the often dark but ultimately hopeful tale about a poor Indian boy who competes for love and money on a TV game show, and writer Simon Beaufoy won adapted screenplay.
"Slumdog" also earned Oscars for best cinematography, sound mixing, film editing, original score for composer A.R. Rahman and best song, "Jai Ho" for Rahman and lyricist Gulzar. Only seven other films in the 81-year-history of the Oscars have won eight or more awards.
Filmed in the teeming slums of Mumbai, the movie was orphaned at one point when it was dropped by financier Warner Independent Pictures, a division of giant Warner Bros. Fox Searchlight Pictures ultimately rescued the project and released the movie to critical acclaim in November.
"You've been so generous to us this evening, and I want to thank you for that," Boyle said to the Academy Award audience when accepting his trophy.
Kate Winslet was named best actress for her dramatic turn as a former Nazi prison guard who involves herself in a love affair with a teenage boy in "The Reader."
She fought back tears when accepting her trophy and remembered a time as a child when she dreamed of winning it.
"I would be lying if I said I haven't made a version of this speech before. I think I was probably 8-years-old and staring into the bathroom mirror," she said.
"This would have been a shampoo bottle," she said gesturing to the golden Oscar statuette. "Well it's not a shampoo bottle now!"
Sean Penn, best known for tough guy roles in movies such as "Mystic River," earned his second Oscar for best actor, portraying slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk in "Milk."
"I did not expect this, and I want to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it for you to appreciate me, often," he said. "I am touched by the appreciation."
PENN GOES POLITICAL
Penn also gave one of the few political speeches of the evening, asking people to rethink their beliefs and support gay marriage.
Other top honors went to Penelope Cruz who became the first Spanish actress to win an Academy Award for her supporting role in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Heath Ledger was posthumously named best supporting actor for his villainous role as The Joker in Batman movie "The Dark Knight."
The award for Ledger, who died last year of an accidental prescription drug overdose, brought the crowd to its feet. He became only the second actor after Peter Finch to win after death. The Oscar was accepted by his father, Kim Ledger, sister Kate and mother Sally Bell.
"This award tonight would have humbly validated his quiet determination to be truly accepted by you all here, his peers, in an industry he truly loved," Kim Ledger said.
In other awards, Dustin Lance Black won the best original screenplay Oscar for writing "Milk, and "Wall-E," telling of a futuristic robot who finds love while on a polluted Earth, was best animated film.
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" walked off with two statuettes for best art direction and makeup, and "The Duchess" won for best costume design.
"Man on Wire" about a tightrope walker who dared to walk between New York's Twin Towers was named best documentary.
In the night's one big surprise, Japanese movie "Departures" beat the favorite, Israeli film "Waltz With Bashir," for foreign language film.
JACKMAN ADDS MUSIC
As the ceremony began, host Hugh Jackman put the show in full musical mode with an opening routine that drew a standing ovation from the star-studded crowd.
The number covered all five of the best film nominees and had Jackman dancing hip hop, hitting high notes in a duet with Hathaway for "Frost/Nixon" and climbing to the top rope of a fake wrestling ring to crescendo his song with "The Wrestler."
Later, he performed an old-style number in top hat and tails with Beyonce, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. Among the funnier acts was Ben Stiller doing an impersonation of a wacky Joaquin Phoenix, who has quit acting to take up hip hop music.
Jackman had been brought in to restore some fun to a show that has seen a slide in television viewership in recent years as Academy members have generally favored dark dramas.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)