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'Slumdog Millionaire' wins Oscar for Best Movie; the late Heath Ledger is Best Supporting Actor

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Slumdog Millionaire" - the year's underdog tale - took eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, Sunday night at the 81st annual Academy Awards ceremony.

The late Heath Ledger won the long-anticipated Best Supporting Actor for "The Dark Knight," while Sean Penn won his second Best Actor award for "Milk," and Kate Winslet, after five previous tries, finally came out victorious as Best Actress for "The Reader."

Ledger became the second performer ever honored with a posthumous Oscar. As his father, Kim; his sister Kate and his mother, Sally Bell, went onstage to accept his statuette, the celebrities in the Kodak Theatre teared up.

"We'd like to thank the Academy for recognizing our son's amazing work," said his father.

"Heath was such a compassionate and generous soul who added excitement and inspiration to our lives," said his mother. "We choose to be happy tonight for what he has achieved."

Kate Ledger closed the family's comments, invoking Ledger and actress Michelle Williams' 3-year-old daughter.

"Heath, we wish you were here - we proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful Matilda."

Penn beat the heavily favored real-life underdog Mickey Rourke. He spoke of equal rights and shame for Californians who voted for a ban on gay marriage.

"You Commie, homo-loving sons of guns - I know how hard I make it to appreciate me," joked Penn as he stood at the podium, before pointing out Rourke and celebrating him.

Winslet recalled the first time she had dreamed of winning an Oscar.

"I'd be lying if I said I haven't made a version of this speech before - I was probably 8 years old and looking in the bathroom mirror and this was a shampoo bottle.

"Well, it's not a shampoo bottle now," she said.

Penelope Cruz won Best Supporting Actress for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

"Has anyone ever fainted up here?" Cruz said, "because I may be the first one."

"Slumdog's" first of 10 possible wins was for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film also got Best Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Film Editing, Original Score and Best Song ("Jai Ho") in addition to Director and Picture.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which went into the evening with the most nominations - 13 - won only for Best Art Direction, Makeup and Visual Effects.

"The Dark Knight," last year's No. 1 blockbuster, won Best Sound Editing in addition to Ledger's win.

"Milk" won Best Original Screenplay. "WALL-E" won Best Animated Feature.

The 18th century outfits of "The Duchess" won Best Costume Design. "Man on Wire" won Documentary Feature; "Smile Pinki" won Documentary Short Subject.

jneumaier@nydailynews.com

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Oscar Nominations: 'Slumdog Millionaire,' big winner

'Benjamin Button,' Mickey Rourke and Kate Winslet are in distinguished company.

By Jocelyn Vena and Gil Kaufman found at mtv.com

 The Oscars are almost here, and since the nominations came out a month ago, we thought we'd remind you of who is up for the gold Sunday night (February 22).

As expected, Heath Ledger, Kate Winslet and "Doubt" managed to capture the hearts of the Academy. It may be surprising to some, however, that "The Dark Knight" didn't find its way on the Best Picture and Best Director ballots for the 81st annual ceremony. Instead the Best Picture race looked almost identical to the lineup of this year's Golden Globes nominees, with nods for "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button," "The Reader," "Frost/Nixon," "Milk" and Slumdog Millionaire

All four leads in the religious drama "Doubt" were nominated for the awards, which will air on ABC. Kate Winslet was not able to repeat her double-dipping in the lead and supporting roles categories at the Globes, earning a Best Actress Oscar nod for her role as a former Nazi in "The Reader," but not for work as a housewife trapped in a drowning marriage in "Revolutionary Road." Her "Revolutionary Road" co-star and good friend Leonardo DiCaprio was shut out from the Best Actor category.

Nominated alongside Winslet are Anne Hathaway ("Rachel Getting Married"), Angelina Jolie ("The Changeling"), Melissa Leo ("Frozen River") and Meryl Streep ("Doubt").

Ledger, who won in the supporting actor category at the Golden Globes, faces another formidable slate of actors, including Josh Brolin ("Milk"), Robert Downey, Jr. ("Tropic Thunder"), and Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Doubt").

The Best Director category will find "Button" director David Fincher going up against such fellow veterans as Ron Howard ("Frost/Nixon"), Gus Van Sant ("Milk"), Stephen Daldry ("The Reader") and Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire").

In addition to the DiCaprio snub, the Best Actor group featured at least one surprise: the inclusion of longtime character actor Richard Jenkins for his role in "The Visitor." He will compete against Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon"), Sean Penn ("Milk"), Brad Pitt ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") and resurgent Golden Globe winner Mickey Rourke, for his bruising take on the life of a washed-up grappler in "The Wrestler."

Rourke's co-star in that film, Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei, was also honored, earning a Best Supporting Actress nod for her role as a stripper. The category also includes Amy Adams ("Doubt"), Penélope Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), Viola Davis ("Doubt") and Taraji P. Henson ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button").

The nominees for Best Animated Feature are "Bolt," "Kung Fu Panda" and "Wall-E." Miley Cyrus' Globe-nominated "Bolt" track, "I Thought I Lost You," didn't receive a nomination for Best Original Song. Instead, "Down to Earth" from "Wall-E" (Peter Gabriel), "Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire" (A.R. Rahman) and "O Saya" from "Millionaire" (Rahman and M.I.A.) will be up for the award.

Though it washed out in the directing and best picture nominations, "Knight" racked up seven nominations in addition to Ledger's: Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects.

The nominees for Adapted Screenplay are "Button," "Doubt," "Frost/Nixon," "The Reader" and "Slumdog Millionaire." The Original Screenplay category pits "Frozen River" against "Happy-Go-Lucky," "In Bruges," "Milk" and "Wall-E."

While some of the year's biggest and best-loved flicks didn't make it into the major categories, they managed to slip into some of the technical ones. "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" got an Achievement in Makeup bid, for instance, and "Iron Man" was nominated for Sound Editing and Visual Effects.

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