Slumdog's Oscar slamdunk

After big wins at The Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, Britain finally swept the board at The Oscars, cinema's biggest night of the year.

After big wins at The Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, Britain finally swept the board at The Oscars, cinema's biggest night of the year. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke feels a warm glow of pride as he looks at the results.

Despite the pundit chatter that Brad Pitt and his movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button would steal the major prizes from under the nose of Slumdog Millionaire, it quickly became apparent at the Oscar ceremony that the British were on a roll.

Of the 14 major categories Britain won an astounding nine Academy Awards - with Slumdog Millionaire being the big winner, chalking up a well deserved eight awards out of a possible ten.

The Oscars are the big showbiz bash of the year and are invariably dominated by the big Hollywood productions. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the well received F Scott Fitzgerald story, about the man who lived his life backwards, received 13 nominations and must be seen as this year's big loser. It was widely tipped to sweep the board and yet came away with just three technical wins.

Apart from Slumdog Millionaire, the other big British success came when Kate Winslet, rejoicing in an unprecedented sixth nomination in ten years, finally took home the statuette for her role as a former SS concentration camp guard in The Reader.

It has been quite a year for Winslet who won Golden Globe and the BAFTA awards for the same role. In fact in the Golden Globe awards she did a rare double winning both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress honours. The Best Supporting actress award was for her part in husband Sam Mendes' film, Revolutionary Road. She was only the third actress to achieve this.

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But, the Oscar remains the ultimate prize and this is the one that everyone wants to win. She said that she had been rehearsing her acceptance since she was a child.

But there was no repeat of the gushing speech she gave a month earlier at the Golden Globes. "I'd be lying if I (said I) hadn't made a version of this before I was eight years old and staring into the bathroom mirror and this (Oscar) would be a shampoo bottle. Only it's not a shampoo bottle now," she said.

"I feel very fortunate to have made it all the way from there to here.''

Afterwards, Winslet said she had always believed an Oscar was a fantasy that would never come true. "I feel like an unlikely hero,'' she said, "I was not the privileged kid things like this could happen to.”

But, the big winner of the night was the small budget British picture Slumdog Millionaire, which was filmed on the streets of Mumbai and told the story of a street kid who wants to improve his lot in life by winning the Indian version of the TV game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

This modest film, shot for a mere �14 million, and with no stars, scooped up all the major prizes including Best Picture and Best Director for Danny Boyle who shot to fame with Trainspotting. The film has been dubbed by critics the feelgood movie of the decade and has really captured the hearts and minds of cinema audiences.

Many commentators have reflected on the fact that the fictional rags to riches story related in the film has been repeated in real life as this small, at one-time destined to be a straight to DVD release, has triumphed at the most prestigious awards show on earth.

Slumdog's total of eight Oscars - for Best Film, Director, Song, Musical Score, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing and Sound Mixing - is the best by a British film since the Second World War romance The English Patient took nine in 1997.

As Slumdog Millionaire swept all before it - leaving Benjamin Button to pick up just three minor Oscars, for Art Direction, Make-up and Visual Effects - the most closely contested categories were to be found in the acting categories.

Although Kate Winslet was always a favourite to win as far as UK pundits were concerned, there was a feeling in the States that maybe Meryl Streep may just sneak the award for her role as the forbidding Mother Superior in Doubt.

As Kate Winslet said in a post-ceremony interview: “When you are in an awards category with her, you can never discount Meryl Streep.” Streep is the most nominated actress in Oscar history with 15 nominations.

In the event the awards went Britain's way but there were some genuine surprises on the night - none bigger than Sean Penn's Best Actor win for Milk - the story of the murdered gay San Francisco politician - Harvey Milk. It was not an undeserving win but everyone had assumed that Mickey Rourke would take the prize for his comeback movie The Wrestler. Rourke was widely tipped as the sure fire winner of the night as he had been sweeping up awards at events like BAFTA and at a host of film festivals but there was an audible intake of breath as Penn's name was read out.

Competition was stiff in the category, with Penn not only up against Rourke, but also battling dazzling performances from Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon, Pitt for Benjamin Button and Richard Jenkins for The Visitor. This was Penn's second Best Acting Oscar having taken the award in 2004 for his part in Clint Eastwood's kidnap drama Mystic River.

There was no surprise when Heath Ledger's name was read out as the winner of the Best Supporting Actor award for his role as the Joker in Batman movie The Dark Knight - only the second time an acting Oscar has been given posthumously.

Ledger's Oscar was accepted by his parents and sister on behalf of his young daughter Matilda, who, under Academy rules, is the official recipient of the statuette.

The ceremony took place exactly a year to the day after Ledger's death at the age of 28 as a result of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in New York.

Penelope Cruz, who took the award for Best Supporting Actress for her part in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, warned audiences that she may be the first person to collapse on stage. "Has anybody ever fainted here?'' she asked as she collected her Oscar. "I think I might be the first one.''

The other British winners included The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley, who picked up the award for Best Costume Design and Man On A Wire which won the Best Documentary category.