Last night's Academy Awards ceremony sure went as planned as to who was expected to win. "Slumdog Millionaire" walked away proud winning eight of its nine nominations. The international rags-to-riches story swept the night clean capturing the win for Best Picture along with Director, Original Screenplay, Song, Score, Cinematography, Editing and Sound Mixing. And Danny Boyle never failed to have an entire crowd of extremely pleased Indians surrounding him.
The real surprise of the night came in the form of how the whole event was put together. The orchestra was put on the stage itself, which had an overhanging arch made of crystals glimmering above, a scene that replicated Coconut Grove where the first Oscar ceremony was held. The other surprise was how Hugh Jackman decided to go about his hosting duties. His opening musical number recognizing all the nominated films was a frantic and goofy choice, but I think it turned out well as it earned him a standing ovation. The setup of the audience was intimately more close to the point where Jackman only had to take a few steps to reach the front row to literally sweep Best Actress nominee Anne Hathaway off her feet.
Hugh Jackman even cracked a few jokes. One in particular had him drawing our attention to the power couple Brangelina. "I'm contractually required to mention them five times during the show," he said. His charm was certainly undeniable.
The new style of presenting categories for acting was an inspired idea. Rather than simply listing off names, five previous winners in the category would stand on the stage and single out each nominee praising them for their work. Not only was it nice to see those previous winners collected together, but even more, it was wonderful to watch each nominee's reaction in the front row. Not only these presentations, but each other one, as well, had a distinctly new structure and design to it. The presentations for screenplay were especially clever as Steve Martin and Tina Fey were introduced by a script that typed itself out.
The rumored duet between Hugh Jackman and Beyoncé came true, which added yet another show piece to be included along with the live performance of the nominated songs. Later in the night, Queen Latifah added a little something to the "In Memoriam" segment by singing a rendition of "I'll Be Seeing You." The Jean Hershlot Humanitarian Award went to Jerry Lewis whose short and sweet acceptance speech was appreciated.
Penélope Cruz opened the wins with the first great speech of the night as she burst out into a flurry of Spanish. As predicted, she accepted her win in the category of Best Supporting Actress for her fierce role in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." This was quickly followed by an astonishingly moving acceptance speech from screenwriter Dustin Lance Black whose screenplay for "Milk" won. He told every gay and lesbian kid out there that they are "beautiful, wonderful creatures of value."
Closing the evening was another pair of memorable speeches. Kate Winslet took home her Best Actress award for "The Reader," a much-deserved first win after five previous nominations. She said that she'd be lying if she hadn't already rehearsed this speech as an 8-year-old girl in the mirror holding a shampoo bottle. "Well, it's not a shampoo bottle now!" she exclaimed. She then asked her dad to whistle so she could wave to her parents. Following such an adorable speech was Sean Penn's for his Best Actor win. His portrayal of gay activist Harvey Milk beat out Mickey Rourke of "The Wrestler" in what was considered to be the toughest race. Penn showed his love for Rourke by closing with, "He's my brother."
When arguably the biggest upset of the night came in the category of Best Foreign Language Film, you know it certainly was not an evening of surprises. The film "Departures" from Japan beat both France's "The Class" and Israel's "Waltz with Bashir." The win could've been promoted by the new rule that the Academy members must actually see every film in the category before casting their vote. I just hope that this win allows the film to makes its way to playing in theaters here.
After its whopping 13 nominations, "The Curious Case of Benjamin" only came out winning in the technical categories of Visual Effects, Makeup, and Art Direction. As the best-reviewed movie of the year, "WALL-E" of course captured its win for Best Animated Feature as director Andrew Stanton accepted the award. Another memorable moment came with the win for "Man On Wire" in the category of Best Documentary Feature as tightrope walker Philippe Petit opened his speech with "Yes!" and then proceeded to balance the Oscar statue on his chin and make a coin disappear saying how magic is possible.
The most beautiful and heartbreaking moment of the entire evening was the award for Best Supporting Actor given to the late Heath Ledger for his unforgettable work in "The Dark Knight." That was the blockbuster's one of two wins, the other being in the category of Sound Editing. Ledger's father, mother, and sister gathered on the stage to accept on his behalf, which caused tears to flow from the eyes of many audience members including my own.