By Susan King
February 23, 2009
Producers tried to shake up the 81st Academy Awards in a bid to boost sagging ratings, but none of it could cover up the fact that there were few, if any, surprises among the winners at the Kodak Theatre. (Did anyone think "Slumdog Millionaire" would be upset?)
So what was left for viewers? Rare moments of emotion that broke through a night of often-canned acceptance speeches.
"You Commie, homo-loving sons of guns," quipped Sean Penn as he thanked the academy for giving him the lead actor Oscar for his touching performance as slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk in "Milk." Penn also joked that he was especially touched, considering how hard he sometimes makes it for the public to appreciate him.
But as his wife, Robin Wright Penn, cried in the front row, Penn turned serious as he chastised those who voted for the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 and said, "We've got to have equal rights for everyone."
When British actress Kate Winslet finally won her Oscar -- it was her sixth try -- for lead actress as an ex-Nazi prison guard in "The Reader," she told the audience she'd been dreaming of the moment for years.
"I'd be lying if I [said I] hadn't made versions of this speech before; I think I was 8 years old staring into the bathroom mirror and this was a shampoo bottle. Well, this is not a shampoo bottle."
Winslet called out for her dad so she'd know where he was in the audience -- when he answered back with a piercing whistle, she waved and told him she loved him. Referring to the film's late producers, Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, she looked up, grabbed her Oscar and said, "Anthony and Sydney, this is for both of you."
The ceremony also took a poignant turn when the late Heath Ledger won supporting actor for his dark, disturbing performance as the Joker in "The Dark Knight."
Ledger, who died 13 months ago at age 28 from an accidental drug overdose, is only the second performer to win a posthumous Oscar. Peter Finch was the first, for best actor in 1976's "Network."
Ledger's father, mother and sister received a standing ovation as they made their way to the stage to accept the award. "This is ever so humbling," his father Kim said. He thanked everyone who gave Ledger "creative license to develop and explore this crazy Joker character." Ledger's sister Kate said, "We proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful [daughter] Matilda."
Many had tears in their eyes during their speech, including Angelina Jolie and Winslet.
A clearly nervous Penélope Cruz elicited laughs when she won for supporting actress in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" for playing a jealous ex-wife in the Woody Allen comedy. "Has anyone ever fainted here?" the Spanish actress asked.
In another sign of the increasing globalization of Hollywood seen in recent years, "Slumdog Millionaire" cleaned up Sunday night -- winning eight awards, including best picture and best director for Danny Boyle. Shot in Mumbai, India, it tells the story of a poverty-stricken teen who ends up on a TV game show.
Producer Christian Colson, accepting the award with the cast, including several of the children who appear in the film, said, "We had no stars. We had no power or muscle . . . but we had a genius for a director. . . . We had passion and belief."
There was one moment that audiences wished had more emotion: When Jennifer Aniston and Jolie were just feet from each other.
The long-awaited encounter between Aniston and Jolie did not result in fireworks, but Aniston looked mighty uncomfortable standing on-stage.
It was the closest the women have reportedly gotten since Jolie snared Aniston's former husband, Brad Pitt.
Hollywood's glamour couple were sitting in the front row of the Kodak Theatre.
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