“Slumdog Millionaire” struck it rich at the 81st Academy Awards Sunday. The Danny Boyle film about life in the slums of Mumbai garnered eight Oscars, leaving its competition “Milk” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in the dust.

Boyle, upon taking the stage to receive his award for Best Director, jumped up and down furiously. He then said that he’d promised his children that “if this miracle ever happened, that I would receive it in the spirit of Tigger from ‘Winnie the Pooh.'” After presenter Stephen Spielberg announced that “Slumdog” had won, the stage was besieged with cast and crew from the movie, including several children who appeared in the film.

There were few surprises in terms of the winners this year. The only bit of disappointment was that the Academy gave Sean Penn Best Actor for his role in “Milk,” instead of sealing fellow nominee Mickey Rourke’s fabulous comeback in “The Wrestler.” But Penn was gracious towards Rourke in his speech: “Mickey Rourke rises again, and he is my brother!”

To the surprise of no one, Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor for “The Dark Knight.” Ledger’s family took the stage to accept the award on his behalf, giving a simple, eloquent and heartbreaking speech about their lost loved one. “We proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful Matilda,” Ledger’s sister Kate said, referring to Ledger’s three-year-old daughter.

The event was cast as a “scaled down” Oscars this year, in view of the recession, but host Hugh Jackman and the evening’s architects made it look far more like the Tonys than the Oscars on a budget. There were several musical numbers, involving Jackman (in a wonderful duet with nominee Anne Hathaway, among other things), Queen Latifah, John Legend, Beyonce, A.R. Rahman (who won best song for “Slumdog”), and a coterie of dancing girls and boys.

The whole show had a scrappy, off-the-cuff feeling that was quite a nice surprise after years of pretentious montages and extended acceptance speeches. When Bill Maher announced that “Man on Wire” had won Best Documentary, Philippe Petit, the subject of the film, ran onstage, gave a shout-out to fellow nominee Werner Herzog, did a magic trick, and then balanced the Oscar statuette on his chin. Steve Martin and Tina Fey had a terrific exchange of scripted banter to introduce the nominees for Best Screenplay. Judd Apatow and actors Seth Rogan and James Franco filmed a skit in which the two actors get high with famed cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and laugh hysterically through “The Reader.”

And so it would seem that this evening, unlike many that had proceeded before it, was truly about artistry, humility and, above all, having one hell of a good time.

About The Author

Emma Johnson is a Blast Magazine critic whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe

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