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‘Slumdog’s’ day

‘Millionaire’ wins best picture

Penelope Cruz Supporting Actress

Heath Ledger Supporting Actor

British director Danny Boyle, left, accepts the Oscar for best director for his work on "Slumdog Millionaire" from Actress Reese Witherspoon during the 81st Academy Awards Sunday, in Los Angeles.

AP photo

Sean Penn Best Actor

Kate Winslet Best Actress

LOS ANGELES — “Slumdog Millionaire” is the Academy Awards champion, wrapping up its ghetto-to-glory story by winning best picture and seven other Oscars, including the directing honor for Danny Boyle.

A story of hope amid squalor in Mumbai, India, “Slumdog Millionaire” also had wins that include adapted screenplay, cinematography, editing and both music Oscars, score and song.

Director Boyle offered warm gratitude to the people of Mumbai, saying they “dwarf even this guy” as he held up his Oscar statue.

Sean Penn won his second Academy Award for best actor for his moving portrayal of slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk in “Milk.” The win follows his first best-actor award for 2003’s “Mystic River.”

He earned a standing ovation from the starry crowd as his wife, Robin Wright Penn, tearfully looked on.

In this highly competitive category, Penn was up against Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler,” Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon,” Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor.”

Kate Winslet has won the best-actress Academy Award for the Holocaust-themed drama “The Reader.”

A five-time loser at the Oscars previously, Winslet triumphed for her role as a former concentration camp guard in an affair with a teenager.

Penn had already won the Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice awards as well as numerous honors from film critics groups across the country. Never one to embrace the hoopla of awards season, the notoriously outspoken Penn seemed more amenable to the process for this role and this film, a best-picture nominee directed by Gus Van Sant. (“Milk” earned an original-screenplay Oscar for Dustin Lance Black.)

The 48-year-old actor deeply immersed himself for the part, which brought out a warmth and sweetness we’d rarely seen throughout a career often marked by intense, complex characters.

“How did he do it?” fellow Oscar winner Robert De Niro wondered in introducing Penn. “How for so many years did he get all those jobs playing straight men?”

Milk was the first openly gay man elected to major public office in the United States when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. The following year, he was shot to death along with Mayor George Moscone by board colleague Dan White.

But during his life, he inspired gays and lesbians to stand up and come out, helped turn the Castro neighborhood into the gay Mecca it would become and roused crowds with impassioned speeches that often began with the words, “My name is Harvey Milk and I am here to recruit you.”

In wrapping up his own speech, Penn mentioned the protesters who lined the streets of Hollywood near the Oscar festivities, holding anti-gay signs: “We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone,” he said.

Heath Ledger won the supporting-actor Academy Award for “The Dark Knight,” Penelope Cruz claimed the evening’s first prize, supporting actress, for her role as a tempestuous artist in Woody Allen’s Spanish romance “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” while the robot romance “WALL-E” won for feature-length animation.

For his demented reinvention of Batman villain the Joker, Ledger became only the second actor ever to win posthumously, his triumph coming exactly 13 months after his death from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs on Oscar nominations day last year.

His Oscar for the Warner Bros. blockbuster was accepted by Ledger’s parents and sister on behalf of the actor’s 3-year-old daughter, Matilda.

“I have to say this is ever so humbling, just being amongst such wonderful people in such a wonderful industry,” said his father, Kim Ledger. “We’d like to thank the academy for recognizing our son’s amazing work, Warner Bros., and Christopher Nolan in particular for allowing Heath the creative license to develop and explore this crazy Joker character.”

Since his death, the 28-year-old Ledger has gained a mythic aura akin to James Dean, another rising star who died well before his time.

The Joker was his final completed role, a casting choice that initially drew scorn from fans who thought Ledger would not be up to the task given Jack Nicholson’s gleefully campy rendition of the character in 1989’s “Batman.”

In the months before Ledger’s death, buzz on his wickedly chaotic performance swelled as marketing for the movie centered on the Joker and the perverted clown makeup he hid behind.

Ledger’s death fanned a frenzy of anticipation for “The Dark Knight,” which had a record $158.4 million opening weekend last summer.

The previous posthumous Oscar recipient was Peter Finch, who won best actor for 1976’s “Network” two months after his death.

“Slumdog Millionaire” was making good on its rags-to-riches roots, claiming the adapted-screenplay prize for Simon Beaufoy, as well as the cinematography, film-editing and sound-mixing Oscars, plus both music honors for score and song. The Harvey Milk film biography “Milk” won for original screenplay.

With two of the three song nominations, “Slumdog” won for “Jai Ho,” the rousing Bollywood number that closes the film.

“Slumdog” composer A.R. Rahman, a dual Oscar winner for the score and song, said the movie was about “optimism and the power of hope.”

“All my life, I’ve had a choice of hate and love. I chose love, and I’m here,” Rahman said.

The epic love story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which led with 13 nominations, had three wins, for visual effects, art direction and makeup.

“The Dark Knight” had a second win, for sound editing.

Cruz triumphed as a woman in a steamy three-way affair with her ex-husband and an American woman in Allen’s romance.

“Has anybody ever fainted here? Because I might be the first one,” Cruz said, who went on with warm thanks to Allen. “Thank you, Woody, for trusting me with this beautiful character. Thank you for having written all these years some of the greatest characters for women.”

It’s the fifth time an Allen film has earned a performer a supporting-acting honor. Cruz joins past Allen collaborators Dianne Wiest, a dual Oscar winner for “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Bullets Over Broadway”; Michael Caine for “Hannah and Her Sisters”; and Mira Sorvino for “Mighty Aphrodite.”

“Slumdog” writer Beaufoy, who adapted the script from Vikas Swarup’s novel “Q&A,” said there are places he never could imagine being.

“For me, it’s the moon, the South Pole, the Miss World podium, and here,” Beaufoy said.

“Milk” writer Dustin Lance Black offered an impassioned tribute to Milk, the pioneering gay-rights politician who was slain 30 years ago.

“If Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he would want me to say to all the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told they are less than by the churches, by the government, by their families, 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,” Black said.

“Man on Wire,” James Marsh’s examination of tight-rope walker Philippe Petit’s dazzling stroll between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, was chosen as best documentary.

The supporting-acting categories were presented by five past winners of the same awards. Cruz’s award was delivered by last year’s winner, Tilda Swinton, plus Eva Marie Saint, Anjelica Huston, Whoopi Goldberg and Goldie Hawn. Ledger’s was presented by Kevin Kline, Alan Arkin, Joel Grey, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Christopher Walken.

It was a much different style for the Oscars as each past recipient offered personal tributes to one of the nominees, without clips of the nominated performances. Awards usually are done in chit-chat style between a couple of celebrity presenters.

Jerry Lewis accepted a humanitarian award during Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony in a presentation that honored both his philanthropy and his comedic acting.

Lewis profusely thanked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which presented him its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The award was presented to the 82-year-old actor by Eddie Murphy, who starred in a remake of one of Lewis’ signature roles, “The Nutty Professor.”

Lewis is perhaps now best-known for his annual telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association as an advocate of “Jerry’s Kids.”

Holding his hand over his heart, Lewis softly said, “Thank you” after Murphy handed him his Oscar statuette.

“For most of my life I thought that doing good for someone didn’t mean you would receive commendation for that act of kindness,” Lewis said. “At least until now.

“This award touches my heart and the very depth of my soul because of who the award is from, and those who will benefit.”

The winners

Complete list of winners at the 81st annual Academy Awards, presented Sunday night at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles:

•Motion Picture: “Slumdog Millionaire.”

• Actor: Sean Penn, “Milk.”

•Actress: Kate Winslet, “The Reader.”

• Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight.”

• Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”

• Director: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire.”

• Foreign Film: “Departures,” Japan.

• Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, “Slumdog Millionaire.”

• Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, “Milk.”

• Animated Feature Film: “WALL-E.”

• Art Direction: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

• Cinematography: “Slumdog Millionaire.”

• Sound Mixing: “Slumdog Millionaire.”

• Sound Editing: “The Dark Knight.”

• Original Score: “Slumdog Millionaire,” A.R. Rahman.

• Original Song: “Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire,” A.R. Rahman and Gulzar.

• Costume: “The Duchess.”

• Documentary Feature: “Man on Wire.”

• Documentary (short subject): “Smile Pinki.”

• Film Editing: “Slumdog Millionaire.”

• Makeup: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

• Animated Short Film: “La Maison en Petits Cubes.”

• Live Action Short Film: “Spielzeugland (Toyland).”

• Visual Effects: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

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