Oscars 2009: Slumdog Millionaire sweeps the board | Slumdog Millionaire | The Guardian

Oscars 2009: Slumdog Millionaire sweeps the board

• Danny Boyle's crowdpleaser takes eight Oscars
• Kate Winslet wins best actress
• Sean Penn beats Mickey Rourke for best actor
How we liveblogged the evening
Full list of winners
Mon 23 Feb 2009 00.02 EST

Slumdog Millionaire was the runaway winner at the 81st Academy Awards last night. Danny Boyle's Mumbai-set melodrama triumphed in all but one of the categories for which it was nominated, taking best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay, as well as five others. Meanwhile, Kate Winslet picked up the best actress award, though there was a surprise for Mickey Rourke - widely tipped as the winner of the best actor award, but pipped at the post by Sean Penn.

But not even this turn of events could prise the night's focus away from Slumdog, just as not even the most potentially damaging allegations that its child stars had been exploited were, in the end, able to scrape any sheen off Boyle's crowdpleaser. The pre-teen actors, flown in especially from India for the occasion, charmed all on the red carpet, then repeated the trick on the podium at the Kodak theatre, where they helped producer Christian Colson accept the top gong for best motion picture.

Earlier in the evening, the film's director, Danny Boyle, bounced onto the stage to pick up his award for best director, apparently keeping a long-held promise to his children that he would accept an Oscar "in the spirit of Tigger". He thanked his cast, crew and family, the people of Mumbai and of St Mary's Social Club in his hometown of Radcliffe in Lancashire. He also praised the evening's organisers. "I don't know what it looks like on television," he said, "but in the room, it's bloody wonderful."

Yet until about halfway through the ceremony, Slumdog's fate seemed uncertain. It was neck-and-neck with its closest rival, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher's loose adaptation of the F Scott Fitzgerald story about a man who ages backwards, each film having bagged three awards. But then Slumdog snatched two consecutive awards from its competitor: best sound mixing and best editing.

Soon afterwards the film's composer, AR Rahman, won the prize for best score and best song. Sandwiched between the awards, he performed the winning number, Jai Ho. Earlier in the evening, Simon Beaufoy had won the award for best adapted screenplay, while Anthony Dod Mantle took the gong for best cinematography.

Brits did well in other categories, too. Winslet made a relatively restrained speech (compared with her now infamous effusions at the Golden Globes) when accepting the best actress award for her role as a former SS concentration camp guard in Stephen Daldry's The Reader. She acknowledged her long-time desire for the honour, then thanked her husband, director Sam Mendes, and her two children. On stage, and unable to see where her parents were seated in the auditorium, she asked her father to whistle to her, which he did, to the delight of the assembled A-listers.

Meanwhile, Simon Chinn and James Marsh were surprise winners of the best documentary award for Man On Wire, their acclaimed film following tightrope artist Philippe Petit's hair-raising trip between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre on a tightrope. They were joined on stage by Petit, who, ever the showman, managed to balance a statuette on his chin.

But the least expected moment undoubtedly occurred late on, when bookies' favourite Mickey Rourke was denied the best actor award for his role as a washed-up grappler in The Wrestler by sometime arch-rival Sean Penn. Penn, who won for his portrayal of gay rights activist Harvey Milk in Gus van Sant's biopic, Milk acknowledged the shock in his speech, exclaiming, "Well, you commie, homo-loving sons of guns!"

Departures, a Japanese meditation on death, was the other odd winner, taking the best foreign language film prize from the much-fancied Waltz With Bashir and The Baader Meinhof Complex.

But by and large, the ceremony was most notable for its cheery predictability. Hotly-tipped Penélope Cruz took the award for best supporting actress for her amusingly volatile performance in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, while the late Heath Ledger won best supporting actor for his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. His family picked up the award in his stead. "This award tonight ... validated Heath's quiet determination to be truly accepted by you all here, his peers, in an industry that he so loved," said his father, Kim, who was joined on stage by the late actor's mother, Sally, and sister, Kate.

Host Hugh Jackman was widely judged to have acquitted himself admirably in a ceremony that somehow managed to be both intimate and heavy on old-fashioned razzle-dazzle. Frequent mentions of the global recession were echoed by a Depression-era style musical dance number, which saw a top-hatted Jackman, alongside Beyoncé and the young stars of Mamma Mia! and High School Musical, dance up a storm in a medley extravaganza. Queen Latifah, however, got the stage all to herself, belting out I'll Be Seeing You over the In Memorium montage.

Irreverent comedy from the likes of Steve Martin and Tina Fey - well-paired to present best original screenplay (which went to Dustin Lance Black for Milk) was warmly received in the auditorium. Likewise Seth Rogen and James Franco, who reprised their Pineapple Express stoners act to titter at stony-faced contenders such as The Reader and Doubt. But the show-stealer looked to be Ben Stiller, spoofing Joaquin Phoenix's zonked out appearance on the David Letterman show, with a Unabomber beard, muffed delivery and a zonked-out stare.

Yet the 2009 Oscars, for all their glitz and glamour, look likely to be remembered chiefly for their celebration of one film: a drama about homeless oprhans in one of the world's most impoverished regions. Few could have imagined, a year back, that this would be the case. Not even the film's screenwriter.

"There are certain places you never imagine standing," said Simon Beaufoy, on winning his award. "The moon, the South Pole, the Miss World podium and here." After such wild success tonight, the winner's podium at the Oscars now seems the most likely place for a sighting of anyone associated with Slumdog.