Mark J. Terrill/AP; Kevin Winter/Getty
Stephen M. Silverman
February 22, 2009 09:10 PM

An underdog movie about a little guy overcoming life’s enormous obstacles swept the Oscars Sunday night, as Slumdog Millionaire racked up eight Academy Awards, including those for Best Picture and for its Director, Danny Boyle.

But it was not underdog Mickey Rourke (for The Wrestler) who took the Best Actor Oscar. That honor went to Sean Penn, for Milk, in which he played 1970s gay activist Harvey Milk.

“I did not expect this, and I know how hard I make it to appreciate me, often,” Penn said in his impassioned acceptance speech – in which he also acknowledged his fellow nominee, whose career had faded away in the ’90s. “Mickey Rourke rises again,” said Penn, “and he is my brother.”

Besides Penn’s Oscar, his second as Best Actor (his first was for 2003’s Mystic River), Milk was also singled out for its Original Screenplay, by Dustin Lance Black.

A breathless Kate Winslet was named Best Actress for her role as a troubled woman with a Nazi past in The Reader. She confided to the audience in her acceptance speech that she first pretended to win an Oscar when she was 8 and looking in the bathroom mirror, holding a shampoo bottle.

Only, Sunday night on the stage of Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre, she was holding a world-famous golden statuette. “Well,” she said, “it’s not a shampoo bottle now.”

She also advised her sister “goddess” nominees just to accept the overwhelming fact that they were nominated in the same category as Meryl Streep.

Hathaway Swept Away

At the start of the show, Anne Hathaway got carried away – literally – by host Hugh Jackman, who ran into the audience during his frenetic opening musical number and lifted her out of her seat and into a spoof of nominated movie Frost/Nixon. She played Richard Nixon to his David Frost.

Hugh Jackman
Mark J. Terrill/AP

From the beginning it was obvious that the 81st annual Academy Awards were revamped and revised, with Jackman serving as something of an official greeter, congratulating nominees and shaking their hands or offering a kiss – besides singing and dancing up a storm.

In the case of Angelina Jolie and fellow Sexiest Man Alive Brad Pitt, Jackman joked that he was contractually obligated to mention them at least five times during the show.

In one of the most-talked-about categories of this year’s Oscar race, the late Heath Ledger was named Best Supporting Actor for what presenter Kevin Kline called his “menacing, mercurial, droll and diabolical” role as the Joker in The Dark Knight. As the audience rose to its feet, Ledger’s family accepted his Oscar.

Cruz Wins First Award

Penélope Cruz took the first award of the night, as Supporting Actress in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. “Has anybody ever fainted here?” she said at the podium. “Because I may be the first one.”

She thanked writer-director Allen for creating so many wonderful roles for women, and acknowledged Spanish director Pedro Almodévar for giving her her start. In Spanish, she added, “I dedicate this award to all those from Spain who feel this award as theirs. Also, to all the actors of my country. Thank you very much.”

Disney-Pixar’s WALL-E, about a robot who falls in love after being inspired by the movie Hello, Dolly!, was named Best Animated Feature – presented by Jennifer Aniston and Jack Black.

Two Nutty Professors

Though it was eventually overshadowed by Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button went into the evening leading the field of contenders, with 13 nominations. It ended up with three Oscars, for Art Direction, Makeup and Visual Effects.

Besides Picture and Director, Slumdog Millionaire also won in the categories of Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Editing, Original Musical Score and Best Song (“Jai Ho”).

Eddie Murphy gave credit for personal inspiration – and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award – to “overgrown kid” Jerry Lewis, 82. “From one Nutty Professor to another,” said Murphy. Clutching his Oscar and addressing the movie community, Lewis said, “This award touches my heart.”

For the complete list of winners click here.

The cast of Slumdog Millionaire
Kevin Winter/Getty

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