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*“Slumdog Millionaire” wins 8 Oscars, including best film
*Sean Penn is best actor, Kate Winslet best actress
*Penelope Cruz, Heath Ledger win supporting awards
By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Rags-to-riches romance “Slumdog Millionaire” swept the Oscars on Sunday, winning eight awards including the prize for best picture in a Hollywood 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.” Only seven other films in Oscar history 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. [ID:nN22280904]
“It is a love story, but is heavily disguised,” Boyle told reporters backstage about “Slumdog.” “The spine appears to be the game show but what happens...is as you peel back the spine, there’s another story underneath, which is the love story.”
The victory for the underdog movie, as well as upbeat hosting by song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman, injected a more optimistic atmosphere to the Oscars amid the world recession after recent years when dark crime dramas “No Country for Old Men” and “The Departed” won the world’s top film honor.
The only arena in which the film seemed bereft of awards was in the acting categories where A-list stars earned the nominations over the relatively unknown cast of “Slumdog.”
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.” [ID:nN22756628]
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.
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.” [ID:nN22769619]
“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.”
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.” [ID:nN22703623]
Heath Ledger was posthumously named best supporting actor for his villainous role as The Joker in Batman movie “The Dark Knight,” becoming only the second performer after Peter Finch to win an Oscar following his death. [ID:nN22493571
The award for Ledger, who died last year of an accidental prescription drug overdose, brought the crowd to its feet. His father Kim Ledger, sister Kate and mother Sally Bell accepted.
“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 best original screenplay for writing ”Milk, and “Wall-E,” about a robot who finds love while on a polluted Earth, was best animated film.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” walked off with awards 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 one big surprise, Japan’s “Departures” beat favorite, Israeli film “Waltz With Bashir,” for foreign language film. [ID:nT314716]
As the ceremony began, host Jackman put the show in full musical mode with an opening routine that drew a standing ovation from the star-studded crowd. [ID:nN22709505]
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. Jackman was brought in to restore some luster and fun to a show that has seen a slide in television viewership in recent years. (Editing by Cynthia Osterman)