“Slumdog Millionaire,” the little film about a poverty-raised teaboy who goes on a game show as a way to find his lost love, won best picture Sunday night, earning eight Oscars at the 81st annual Academy Awards. Sean Penn won best actor for “Milk” and Kate Winslet won best actress for her performance in “The Reader.” Best supporting honors went to Heath Ledger for “The Dark Knight” and to Penelope Cruz for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”
“Slumdog Millionaire,” the little film that overcame tremendous odds simply to earn an American release, won eight Oscars Sunday night at the 81st annual Academy Awards, including best picture.
“Most of all we had passion and we had belief, and our film shows if you have those two things, you have everything,” said producer Christian Colson, surrounded by many members of the film’s huge cast and crew.
It was a supremely unlikely success story. “Millionaire,” which combines elements of Bollywood melodrama and documentary grit, features no stars.
It’s set largely among the poverty-stricken districts of Mumbai, India, and one-third of the film is in Hindi. Its initially reluctant director, Danny Boyle, is better known for brash British films such as “Trainspotting” and “28 Days Later.” And the film almost went straight to DVD in America, thanks to the folding of initial studio Warner Independent Pictures (like CNN, it’s a unit of Time Warner).
But the film’s orphaned, poverty-raised hero, played by Dev Patel, overcomes his challenges to earn a spot on the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” — not necessarily to win money, but to connect with his lost love. On the show, he’s told that perhaps he is a figure of destiny.
“It is written,” the show’s smarmy host tells him, somewhat mockingly, after Patel’s character aces several questions. List of winners, nominees
“Slumdog’s” filmmakers were jubilant at the wins, which also included Oscars for best director (Boyle), best adapted screenplay (Simon Beaufoy), score (A.R. Rahman), cinematography (Anthony Dod Mantle), song, sound mixing and film editing.
Boyle jumped up and down as he accepted his award, saying he’d told his children that if he ever won, he’d bounce like Tigger from “Winnie-the-Pooh.”
Rahman was equally appreciative.
“All my life I’ve had a choice between hate and love, and I chose love, and now I’m here,” he said.
“Slumdog’s” main competition, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” won just three Oscars, all in minor categories. The film had led the pack with 13 nominations.
The rest of the Oscar broadcast alternated between host Hugh Jackman’s smooth song-and-dance numbers, some comic moments from Steve Martin, Tina Fey and Ben Stiller, and politics, generally focused on gay rights and California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8.
Sean Penn won best actor for playing Harvey Milk in “Milk,” the story of the first openly gay man elected to major public office. Penn earned laughs and applause for his speech.
“You commie homo-loving sons of guns,” the sometimes truculent actor began, to laughter. “I did not expect this, and I wanted to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me, often. But I am touched by the appreciation.”
After a series of thank-you’s, he turned serious in talking about gay marriage. “For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think it’s a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect on their great shame and their shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that support,” Penn said. “We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.”
Dustin Lance Black, who won original screenplay for “Milk,” also gave an impassioned speech in favor of gay rights.
“I think [Milk] would want me to say to all the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight … that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value, and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours.”
Heath Ledger won best supporting actor for his performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” His parents and sister accepted the award for the actor, who died in January 2008.
“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 truly loved,” said Ledger’s father, Kim.
Ledger is only the second actor to win a posthumous actor. Peter Finch won best actor for 1976’s “Network” two months after he died in early 1977.
Other winners included Kate Winslet, who won best actress for her performance in “The Reader“; Penelope Cruz, who won best supporting actress honor for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona“; and “WALL-E,” which won best animated feature.
Most of the winners, if not foreordained, were expected. The evening’s sole shock came with best foreign-language film, which went to the Japanese film “Departures.” Among the films it beat were France’s “The Class” and Israel’s “Dances With Bashir,” two of the best-reviewed films of the year.
The Oscars moved at a steady pace, largely thanks to Jackman’s brisk, jokey work. Only the introductions to the four acting categories, in which previous winners read tributes to current nominees as if they were about to appear on “This Is Your Life,” considerably slowed the show, which ran close to three and a half hours.
At various points, Jackman cracked wise about downsizing — “Next year,” said the “Australia” star, “I’ll be starring in a movie called ‘New Zealand’ ” — performed songs about each best picture nominee in various musical styles, and paid tribute to various celebrities as if pointing out VIPs in a nightclub. He even physically carried Anne Hathaway on stage to play Richard Nixon in a “Frost/Nixon” send-up.
But it was “Slumdog Millionaire” that carried the evening. At one point, Resul Pookutty, who won for sound mixing, seemed overwhelmed as he accepted his Oscar.
“I dedicate this award to my country,” he said. “Thank you, Academy, this is not just a sound award, this is history being handed over to me.”
Given the import of East meeting West, the movie business can say the same thing.
The following is a complete list of winners at the 81st annual Academy Awards.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
WINNER: “Slumdog Millionaire”
WINNER: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Stephen Daldry, “The Reader”
David Fincher, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon”
Gus Van Sant, “Milk”
Richard Jenkins, “The Visitor”
Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”
WINNER: Sean Penn, “Milk”
Brad Pitt, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”
Angelina Jolie, “Changeling”
Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”
Meryl Streep, “Doubt”
WINNER: Kate Winslet, “The Reader”
Josh Brolin, “Milk”
Robert Downey Jr., “Tropic Thunder”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Doubt”
WINNER: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road”
Amy Adams, “Doubt”
WINNER: Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Viola Davis, “Doubt”
Taraji P. Henson, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Marisa Tomei, “The Wrestler”
“Kung Fu Panda”
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” screenplay by Eric Roth, screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
“Doubt,” written by John Patrick Shanley
“Frost/Nixon,” screenplay by Peter Morgan
“The Reader,” screenplay by David Hare
WINNER: “Slumdog Millionaire,” screenplay by Simon Beaufoy
“Frozen River,” written by Courtney Hunt
“Happy-Go-Lucky,” written by Mike Leigh
“In Bruges,” written by Martin McDonagh
WINNER: “Milk,” written by Dustin Lance Black
“WALL-E,” screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon; original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter
“Changeling,” James J. Murakami; set decoration: Gary Fettis
WINNER: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Donald Graham Burt; set decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
“The Dark Knight,” Nathan Crowley; set decoration: Peter Lando
“The Duchess,” Michael Carlin; set decoration: Rebecca Alleway
“Revolutionary Road,” Kristi Zea; set decoration: Debra Schutt
“Changeling,” Tom Stern
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Claudio Miranda
“The Dark Knight,” Wally Pfister
“The Reader,” Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
WINNER: “Slumdog Millionaire,” Anthony Dod Mantle
“Australia,” Catherine Martin
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Jacqueline West
WINNER: “The Duchess,” Michael O’Connor
“Milk,” Danny Glicker
“Revolutionary Road,” Albert Wolsky
“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”
“Encounters at the End of the World”
WINNER: “Man on Wire”
“Trouble the Water”
“The Conscience of Nhem En”
“The Final Inch”
WINNER: “Smile Pinki”
“The Witness — From the Balcony of Room 306″
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
“The Dark Knight,” Lee Smith
“Frost/Nixon,” Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
“Milk,” Elliot Graham
WINNER: “Slumdog Millionaire,” Chris Dickens
Foreign language film
“The Baader Meinhof Complex,” Germany
“The Class,” France
WINNER: “Departures,” Japan
“Waltz with Bashir,” Israel
WINNER: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Greg Cannom
“The Dark Knight,” John Caglione Jr. and Conor O’Sullivan
“Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Alexandre Desplat
“Defiance,” James Newton Howard
“Milk,” Danny Elfman
WINNER: “Slumdog Millionaire,” A.R. Rahman
“WALL-E,” Thomas Newman
“Down to Earth” from “WALL-E,” music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, lyrics by Peter Gabriel
WINNER: “Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire,” music by A.R. Rahman, lyrics by Gulzar
“O Saya” from “Slumdog Millionaire,” music and lyrics by A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam
WINNER: “La Maison en Petits Cubes”
“Lavatory — Lovestory”
“This Way Up”
“Auf der Strecke (On the Line)”
“Manon on the Asphalt”
WINNER: “The Dark Knight,” Richard King
“Iron Man,” Frank Eulner and Christopher Boyes
“Slumdog Millionaire,” Glenn Freemantle and Tom Sayers
“WALL-E,” Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
“Wanted,” Wylie Stateman
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten
“The Dark Knight,” Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick
WINNER: “Slumdog Millionaire,” Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty
“WALL-E,” Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
“Wanted,” Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño and Petr Forejt
WINNER: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron
“The Dark Knight,” Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber and Paul Franklin
“Iron Man,” John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick and Shane Mahan