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Song & dance, euphoria & sobriety, and a few moving moments at the 81st annual Academy Awards

By WcP.Movie.Critic - Posted on 23 February 2009

crowds watched the fashion spectacle as stars walked the red carpets before the 81st Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles


A year after its worst television ratings, the Academy Awards ceremony has been reinvented with a fresh, vibrant yet intimate atmosphere, a welcome change of pace that suited this year's runaway success, Slumdog Millionaire. The Indian rags-to-riches story was snubbed initially by the Hollywood studios but has captured the imagination of the world's cinema-going public, and yesterday it swept an astonishing eight Oscars, including the best picture and best director.

Hugh Jackman hosted the 81st annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood

Slumdog's Oscar-winning scriptwriter, Simon Beaufoy, said the award had come at an interesting time in international affairs. "The financial markets are crashing around the world and a film comes out (that) is ostensibly about being a millionaire, (but) it's a film that says there's more important things than money: love, faith and family, and that struck a chord with people," he said.

razzle dazzle ... Oscar host Hugh Jackman performs with Beyonce during the 81st Academy Awards

With a glamorous stage that was less formal than in previous years, the intimacy gave the Kodak Theatre the feeling of a swank 1940s nightclub at this year’s Oscars. There was much consternation about the choice of Hugh Jackman to host the ceremony but the producers were smart enough not to try to make him into an Australian Billy Crystal or Steve Martin. Instead they played to Jackman's strengths and had him launch into a hilarious song-and-dance comic number about the movies. With 100,000 beaded crystals shimmering over his head on the new-look Oscars stage, Jackman was in his element, as if he were back on Broadway.

a production featuring Vanessa Hudgens, center left, Beyonce Knowles and Amanda Seyfriend celebrated movie musicals

His jokes didn't exactly have them falling down in the aisles but they were amusing, especially his self-deprecating gag about how Robert Downey Jr got an Oscar nomination for playing an Australian playing a black American in Tropic Thunder. "Whereas me, I'm an Australian, playing an Australian in a movie called Australia and I'm hosting," he deadpanned. He turned to the notoriously unpredictable Mickey Rourke -- a man whom Sean Penn later said was "talented at burning bridges" -- and invited him to say "whatever is on your mind" if he won best actor. "We have a seven-second delay, but if you win, we switch to a 20-minute delay," Jackman joked.

Sophia Loren, left, Shirley McLain, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman and Halle Berry presented the best actress award, which went to Kate Winslet for The Reader

Mostly the actor was chosen to be the first noncomedian Oscar host in more than 30 years for what he didn’t do: deride Hollywood. Mr. Jackman was high-spirited, not mean-spirited. He spoke with sass, but unlike more satirical predecessors like Chris Rock and Jon Stewart, there were no smirks; he came to the task with Broadway sizzle, not a stand-up routine. The movie industry was in no mood for mockery, and perhaps in no condition for it. Every Oscar ceremony tries to reclaim old Hollywood glamour; this one tried to suit the times by reverting straight to old Depression-era glamour.

from left: Robin Wright Penn and Sean Penn; Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

The best innovation of the ceremony was bringing in five previous winners in the acting categories to introduce the nominees and present the Oscar to the winner. There was genuine emotion when Sophia Loren introduced Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro spoke of Penn's acting talent.

Kate Winslet accepts the award for best actress in a leading role for her performance in The Reader

Kate Winslet, an Oscar contender five times previously, made her sixth nomination a charm, winning best actress for her role in The Reader. She spoke movingly of being an eight-year-old in her bathroom and practicing her Oscars acceptance speech holding a bottle of shampoo at her family home in England. "And it's not a shampoo bottle now," she said, lifting her Oscar into the air. "These dreams that seem so silly and so impossible could really come true. Having been here before and lost, I've got to tell you that winning is really a lot better than losing; really, a lot better. I feel like a very unlikely hero right now. I was not the privileged kid that things like this really happened to." She said she still felt like "a little girl from Reading".

former Oscar winners Adrien Brody, Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley presented the award for best actor, which was won by Sean Penn for his role in Milk

Steve Martin and Tina Fey were genuinely funny, and when onstage, represented the Oscar hosts that could have been. Most of the night was oddly earnest. Even Jerry Lewis was treated with deference by Eddie Murphy, who didn’t even try to make the audience laugh. Neither did Mr. Lewis. Instead, that now frail comedian accepted his award for humanitarian work with only a few words (he said he accepted it with staggering humility) and little of his customary bathos. One of the more poignant moments of the night was the award for best supporting actor, which went to the late Heath Ledger for his role in the "The Dark Knight." There were tears in the audience as Ledger's family accepted the Oscar on his behalf. His sister Kate promised to pass the honor on to his young daughter, "your beautiful Matilda".

left, Anthony Hopkins and his wife Stella Arroyave; Richard Jenkins and his wife Sharon R. Frederick


Photos courtesy of Josh Haner / The New York Times, Monica Almeida / The New York Times, Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press, Gary Hershorn / Reuters, J. Emilio Flores / The New York Times, AP Photo, Reuters and Getty Images

Original Source: The Australian, NY Times, and MSNBC

Image Gallery: Red Carpet Fashions

Related Links: History of the Academy Awards and Best & Worst of the Oscars: Hugh Jackmania

Firstly, I congratulate the team of Slumdog Millionaire movie. I always saw the latest updates about movies and award news. Its really great success for our Indian cinemas that the Bollywood movie was nominated for the Oscar awards. Every Indian should glad to hear this news. This news makes feel proud.

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