Slumdog Millionaire won eight categories including Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards last night, which aired at 8:30 p.m. on ABC and featured Hugh Jackman in his first hosting gig.
The late Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Dark Knight, while Kate Winslet won Best Actress for The Reader and Penelope Cruz won Best Supporting Actress for Vicky Cristina Barcelona.Â The Curious Case of Benjamin Button won three awards — Art Direction, Makeup, and Visual Effects — while Milk won two major awards: Sean Penn took home Best Actor (upsetting sentimental favorite Mickey Rourke), and Dustin Lance Black won Best Original Screenplay.
Acceptance speeches were mostly kept short — thankfully, no one was played offstage by the music — and eloquent.Â Politics only came up during Penn and Black’s speeches for Milk:Â “For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight,” Penn said, “I think it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect, and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support.Â We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.”
When Heath Ledger won, his father, mother, and sister accepted the award on behalf of Ledger’s three-year-old daughter.Â “Heath, we both knew what you had created in the Joker was extraordinarily special, and had even talked about being here on this very day,” said his sister.Â “We really wish you were, but we proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful Matilda.”
The most enthusiastic winner was perhaps Danny Boyle, who won Best Director for Slumdog Millionaire and jumped up and down onstage as soon as he was handed the Oscar.Â “My kids are too old to remember this now, but when they were much younger, I swore to them if this miracle ever happened, I would receive it in the spirit of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.Â That’s what that was,” he said.
“You’ve been so generous to us this evening,” he said on behalf of his Slumdog team, “and I want to thank you for that, and also for an extraordinary, beautiful show you’ve done.Â I don’t know what it looks like on television everybody, but in the room it’s bloody wonderful, really.”
The ceremony was notable not necessarily for its stars — indeed, the presenters were kept secret until they appeared onstage — but for the question of whether or not anybody would tune in.Â Last year, thanks to a low-profile slate of nominees, the Oscars had their worst-rated year ever; this year, with The Dark Knight shut out of most major categories, producers feared the ratings would sink even lower.Â To that end they hired Bill Condon (the director of Dreamgirls) to produce a revamped version of the show and Jackman — known not for comedy but for his stage background — to host.
The “innovations” that Condon and Jackman cooked up were overall a mixed bag containing a few very good ideas.Â There were two big musical numbers, one of them a very funny opener and the second a wholly unnecessary ode to musicalsthat featured Beyonce Knowles but felt like it belonged at the Tony’s.
Instead of featuring different presenters for each award no matter how tiny (Sound Effects Editing, anyone?), the show organized the technical awards into separate groups: one set of presenters would handle “Pre-Production” — Art Direction, Costume Design, etc. — while another would handle “Post-Production” — Editing, Visual Effects, and so on.Â This proved to be a minor masterstroke: not only did it provide the telecast with more cohesion, it sped things up.
The final change was in the way the acting nominations were presented: instead of one presenter, each acting category featured five former winners, who each honored one of the nominees with a short speech before announcing the winner.Â The intent — beyond just the star power — was to bring back some fond memories of the old Hollywood, but it was too talky and would’ve been better had they simply shown a brief clip featuring each nominee: not only would that move faster, it would invite the folks watching at home to decide who they thought deserved to win.
And the fruits of Jackman and Condon’s labor?Â The ratings were up 13% from last year, with 36.3 million viewers tuned in.
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