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Oscars ’09: Winslet no longer winless
After six career nominations, Kate Winslet finally won her Oscar on Feb. 22 at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles during the presentation of the 81st Annual Academy Awards. Winslet had a long awards season that brought her two Golden Globes, one Screen Actors Guild Award and a BAFTA before winning the Academy Award for her performance as former Nazi guard Hanna Schmitz in Stephen Daldry’s “The Reader.” Out of breath, Winslet took the stage and clutched her Oscar.
“I’d be lying if I haven’t made a version of this speech before,” Winslet said. “I think I was probably 8 years old and staring into the bathroom mirror and this [Oscar] would have been a shampoo bottle. Well, it is not a shampoo bottle now!”
Winslet thanked director Peter Jackson (who gave Winslet her first big break in 1994’s “Heavenly Creatures”) and Emma Thompson, who wrote an adaptation of “Sense & Sensibility” that brought Winslet her first Oscar nod in 1995.
An emotional Winslet raised her Oscar to the heavens in honor of Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, who both died last year and were producers on “The Reader.”
“This is for you. This is for both of you,” she said.
Hugh Jackman hosted for the first time and did a sufficient job at keeping the show moving forward. Jackman’s musical performances were full of energy and spirit, which kept the crowd on their toes. On the other hand, not all of the musical interludes worked (the one celebrating the return of the movie musical was off since the movie musical actually returned in 2001 with the success of “Moulin Rouge!” and then in 2002 when “Chicago” won Best Picture). Jackman did not quite have the comedic punch of Steve Martin or Jon Stewart or Ellen DeGeneres, but he more than held his own and could very well be asked again to host in the near future.
Oscar producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark completely re-invented the usually tedious ceremony. The arrangement of the acting awards was revolutionary and inspired by having five previous victors of the category come out on stage to present to the newest member of the elite circle of winners. This provided a special moment for the nominees and past winners to reflect on the crowning achievements of the previous year in film (and past Oscar history). Brief sequences with James Franco and Seth Rogen as their “Pineapple Express” counterparts along with Ben Stiller presenting as Joaquin Phoenix lifted the show.
Sean Penn won his second Oscar in five years for his luminous portrayal of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official.
“I know how hard I make it to appreciate me often,” Penn said jokingly as the audience laughed. “But, I am touched by the appreciation.”
Penn spoke about protestors who camped outside of the Kodak Theatre just to spew vitriol.
“Finally, for those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support,” Penn said. “We have got to have equal rights for everyone.”
One of the more emotional moments of the evening occurred during the presentation of Supporting Actor, which Heath Ledger won posthumously for his performance as The Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Ledger’s parents and sister accepted on his behalf.
“Heath, we both knew what you had created in The Joker was extraordinarily special and had even talked about being here on this very day,” Ledger’s sister Kate said. “We really wish you were, but we proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful [daughter] Matilda.”
Ledger is the first actor to win an Oscar posthumously since Peter Finch triumphed in 1977 for “Network.” He is also the only actor to ever win for a performance in a comic-book based film.
Finally, “Slumdog Millionaire” was the big winner of the evening garnering eight wins, including trophies for Best Director (Danny Boyle) and Best Picture. To put the eight wins in perspective, this is the same total “Gone with the Wind” left the Oscars with back in 1940.