The Oscars are a winner -- at least compared with the record ratings low of last year's broadcast.
Sunday night's 81st Annual Academy Awards on ABC climbed 13 percent to 36.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen estimates. Viewership was up in all age groups, and the biggest increases were among men ages 18 to 34.
Jack Nicholson with his '98 Oscar for his role in "As Good as It Gets."(AP file)
Anyone notice something missing from the Oscars on Sunday night? Why, for instance, did Hugh Jackman, during his opening front-row schtick, wind up sitting in Frank Langella's lap instead of ... Jack Nicholson's?
Best actor winner Sean Penn extended some of his serious, socially conscious message from the podium to his comments backstage.
"What I mentioned from the stage earlier tonight is to see this culture of ignorance, it breeds this kind of hateful expression," he said. "These people had the [anti-gay] signs outside essentially telling you you're less than human."
Heath Ledger's mother Sally Bell (from left), father Kim Ledger and sister Kate arrive at the Governors Ball late Sunday night following the Academy Awards in Hollywood.(Amy Sancetta/AP)
Just before he died, Heath Ledger had an inkling that he might get a statuette for his performance as the Joker in "The Dark Knight," which earned him a posthumous supporting actor Oscar on Sunday. After alluding to it on the podium, the Ledger family elaborated backstage on a conversation they had with him.
"When he came home for Christmas a year ago, he had been sending me shots and bits of pieces from the film," sister Kate Ledger said. "And I said to him, 'I have a feeling this is it for you; you're going to get a nomination for this from the Academy.' And he just looked at me and smiled. So he knew."
Early estimates indicate that the Oscars' TV ratings actually went up for this year's telecast last night -- but that's not saying much.
A full accounting will be ready later today, but preliminary numbers show a 6 percent uptick from last year's show. But that means last night's show is still among the bottom three least-watched Oscars ever.
Frida Pinto (left) and Rubiana Ali from the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" greet each other at the Governor's Ball late Sunday night following the Academy Awards in Hollywood. (Amy Sancetta/AP)
By SOLVEJ SCHOU
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- The glitzy, global spirit of Hollywood raged into the wee hours after the Oscars, with parties around town feting everyone from British best actress winner Kate Winslet down to the youngest "Slumdog Millionaire" star, drinking caffeine to keep up his strength.
Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, only 8, slurped on a can of Coca-Cola at Fox Searchlight's packed after-party Sunday night at ONE Sunset in West Hollywood honoring "The Wrestler" and "Slumdog Millionaire." Filmed in the slums of Mumbai, "Slumdog" snagged eight Oscars, including best picture and director.
Ayush, who lives in India and plays the youngest version of the movie's protagonist Jamal, sat on a sofa at the club, nursing his soda after midnight.
"Very excited," said Ayush, when asked about the wins. "It's unbelievable. I never thought I would get an Oscar. Daniel [director Danny Boyle] told us, 'If you work hard, the Oscar will come to you.' And it came."
Sean Penn accepts the Oscar for best actor for his work in "Milk" during the Academy Awards.(Mark J. Terrill/AP)
"You commie homo-loving sons of guns. I did not expect this, and I want it to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me, often, but I am touched by the appreciation." -- Sean Penn, accepting the best actor Oscar for his role in "Milk."
More quotes from tonight's 81st annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles ...
Actress Penelope Cruz accepts the Oscar for best supporting actress for her work in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."(Mark J. Terrill/AP)
BY BILL ZWECKER
Moments after winning her Oscar for ''Vicky Cristina Barcelona,'' Penelope Cruz was still in total shock backstage, wanting ''to call Woody Allen right now -- maybe that will make it real.''
Yet, Cruz revealed she didn't believe an Academy Award would cure her of her well-known sense of insecurity about her talent. ''I have always been insecure on the set [of all my movies] no matter what. Working with Woody Allen helped, because I never doubted the genius of Woody Allen.
''Yet, when I read the script, I laughed a lot, but when I got into the character of Maria Elena on the set, I didn't want to laugh. We all knew it was a comedy, but when you're making it, you can't think about what is funny or where the jokes are. It wasn't until I finally saw it at Cannes -- and people were laughing so much. I found that so surprising.''
Dustin Lance Black arrives for the Academy Awards.(Matt Sayles/AP)
Dustin Lance Black, donning a white ribbon on his lapel in support of gay marriage, earned an Oscar tonight for "Milk," his original screenplay depicting the life and career of the country's first openly gay politician, Harvey Milk.
"Harvey gave me his story and it saved my life," he said.
Black described walking onstage to get the award as "an out of body experience."
Not every star who arrives at the Oscars strolls along the red carpet out front to the applause of thousands of star-struck fans. Some like to sneak in the back.
"It's so much nicer. No one's screaming," Goldie Hawn said as she arrived at a loading dock about 45 minutes before Sunday's Oscar show and slipped through a door that led directly to the Kodak Theatre's green room. Hawn, a best supporting actress winner in 1970, was accompanied by longtime beau Kurt Russell.
The Oscars are made in Chicago, and their long journey ended this weekend when the statuettes arrived in Hollywood for tonight's big show ...
Steve Miessner, the keeper of the Oscars, packages the statues for transport to Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009 in preparation for the 81st Academy Awards tonight. (Chris Carlson/AP)
Take "Good Morning America" and "Project Runway," add some Entertainment Weekly, and you've got the hosts of the red-carpet arrivals show at the Oscars.
Producers say ABC morning news co-anchor Robin Roberts, fashion guru Tim Gunn and EW managing editor Jess Cagle will host the official Academy Awards pre-show, "Oscars Red Carpet 2009." They will interview celebrities and talk fashion and film during the 30-minute live program.
Model Lauren Gish wears a platinum crepe lame strapless gown with handmade orchid by designer Sam Kori George at the "Oscars Designer Challenge," Tuesday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif.(Damian Dovarganes/AP)
Calling all fashionistas: Oscar wants you. The film academy is adding a "Project Runway" element to the Oscars this year by asking the public to vote on which dress the trophy presenter will wear.
The academy tapped seven emerging designers to create gowns for the competition. They unveiled their entries Tuesday during the annual Oscar fashion show at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' headquarters.
The winning dress "will be seen on Oscar night probably more than any other gown on the red carpet," said Oscar fashion coordinator Patty Fox. She and show producers Laurence Mark and Bill Condon selected the competing designers.
Brad Paisley leads all finalists for the Academy of Country Music Awards with six nominations.
The finalists were announced in Nashville, Tenn., this morning and Paisley garnered nods for entertainer of the year and male vocalist. He is also a finalist for record, song and video of the year for "Waitin' on a Woman." Paisley is also up for vocal event of the year for "Start a Band" with Keith Urban.
Singer Keyshia Cole poses on the press line at the Island Def Jam Grammy party last night in Beverly Hills, Calif.(Dan Steinberg/AP)
The decorations were modest and hors d'oeuvres resembled comfort food, but award winners still boozed it up in style at Island Def Jam Music Group chairman Antonio "L.A." Reid's Grammy after-party, despite big no-shows Rihanna, Beyonce and Jay-Z.
Other parties around town following Sunday night's 51st annual Grammy Awards also held to recession-conscious standards, from a conspicuous lack of blingy decor to pared down eats and attire. Forget the days of Sony BMG's annual lavish Beverly Hills Hotel soiree, canceled this time around because of the economy.
At Reid's bash at Wolfgang's Steakhouse in Beverly Hills, first-time Grammy winner Duffy sat atop a simple beige sofa and sipped red wine and beamed while LCD screens around the room showed footage from the awards ceremony of her singing with Al Green.
"I feel fantastic," said Duffy, grinning about her win for best pop vocal album. "I wish I could bring the trophy with me. ... And I want to change out of this dress. I'm starving."
Music legend Stevie Wonder and teenie-boppers the Jonas Brothers teamed up last night to perform at the Grammy Awards -- singing the group's pop hit "Burnin' Up" and an all-time Wonder favorite "Superstition."
What did you think of the pairing? Should new stars like the Jonas Brothers perform with legends like Wonder?
A stunning-looking and strong-sounding Whitney Houston made a triumphant return to the stage at a pre-Grammy party honoring her mentor, music mogul Clive Davis.
"I've got it, I've got it!" Houston, looking glamorous in a skintight leopard dress, sang early Sunday morning as she belted a line from one of her classic hits, "I'm Every Woman." But more than a lyric, it summarized to the crowd of A-list superstars and top industry execs that the superstar -- whose drug use and erratic behavior had caused a shocking fall from grace just a few years ago -- was back in top form.
"We all crossed our fingers that her beautiful story would end [happily]," said Jamie Foxx, who stood at the front of the stage and took video of Houston like he was just another fan in the crowd. "This is a new beginning."
Houston's mini-concert put an exclamation point on a night that included a rousing performance by Kelly Clarkson, an unlikely but magical duet between Jennifer Hudson and Barry Manilow and a rambling monologue by Kanye West.
The main question tonight seems to be which of the top Grammys will go to Coldplay and which of them to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. But some burning questions do sizzle through -- like will Lil Wayne pull it off? Or Radiohead? Or, off topic, is M.I.A. gonna have that baby on stage?
Rags-to-riches story "Slumdog Millionaire" continued its fairy-tale journey Sunday, winning seven prizes, including best picture, at the British Academy Film Awards and sealing its place as favorite for the Oscars later this month.
Kate Winslet and Mickey Rourke also gained Oscar momentum with acting wins -- Winslet for her role as a former Nazi concentration camp guard in "The Reader," Rourke for his career-reviving performance as a washed-up athlete in "The Wrestler." Heath Ledger won a posthumous supporting actor award for The Dark Knight."
Actress Jessica Biel (bottom center) and Academy President Sid Ganis (bottom center right) are surrounded Saturday by honorees and award recipients of the 81st annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Scientific and Techinical Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif.(Gus Ruelas/AP)
Host Jessica Biel wore Oscar de la Renta, but it was bearded, buttoned-down Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull who got whoops and whistles at the first Academy Awards presentation of the year.
Attendees yelled and stood for Catmull, president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, as he accepted an Oscar statuette Saturday night for a lifetime of work in computer animation. He said he was inspired by early Disney films "Peter Pan" and "Pinocchio," then name-dropped collaborators George Lucas, Steve Jobs and Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter.
"In each of the communities that I've been in, we know that when we make the movies look good, we make each other look good," Catmull said. "It's really been a great adventure."
M.I.A.'s planned performance at the Grammys might be more labor intensive than most.
The pregnant rapper is nominated for two Grammys, including record of the year for her hit "Paper Planes." She could give birth to her first child at any moment. Yet she has agreed to perform during the Grammy telecast, to be aired live on CBS on Sunday.
If the long list of performers lined up for Sunday's Grammys has you wondering how they'll pack it all in to a three-hour telecast -- and even that seems like way too much! -- take comfort in knowing that most singers and bands won't be on stage one at a time. The Grammy stage will be mix and match.
Abdul "Duke" Fakir of the Four Tops in the recording studio last month at the Motown Museum in Detroit.(AP)
By JEFF KAROUB
DETROIT -- Abdul "Duke" Fakir cried joyful tears when he learned that the Four Tops will receive a lifetime achievement award Sunday at the 51st annual Grammy Awards.
He's also been on an emotional high as Motown Records, the label that recorded and released his group's biggest hits, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
But the banner year is bittersweet, as the 73-year-old entertainer marks the occasions and accolades without his longtime bandmates of more than four decades. He became the Four Tops' lone surviving original member in October, when frontman Levi Stubbs died, following the death of Renaldo "Obie" Benson in 2005 and Lawrence Payton in 1997.
"I just wish my partners were here to see the acclaim the world has given us," he said recently from the room at the Motown Historical Museum that served as the label's studio from 1959 until 1972, when the company moved to Los Angeles.
The odds favor the oddest couple in recent Grammy memory. By almost every measure, former Led Zeppelin howler Robert Plant and bluegrass darling Alison Krauss have a lock on the Grammy for album of the year, music's highest honor.
This year's field, widely hailed as a solid reflection of 2008's worthiest works, pits the duo's "Raising Sand" against Coldplay's "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends," Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III," Ne-Yo's "Year of the Gentleman" and Radiohead's "In Rainbows."
All enjoyed critical hosannas and commercial success, but the Grammy victor is often determined by byzantine variables that weigh artistic merit along with popularity, familiarity, past performance, overdue recognition and comfort levels. The probability rises when an album appeals to multiple constituencies, avoids controversy and evokes a bygone era.
Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder, M.I.A., Smokey Robinson, Robin Thicke, Allen Toussaint and Terence Blanchard have joined the performance lineup for the Feb. 8 Grammy Awards at Los Angeles' Staples Center.
In addition, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, John Mayer and Keith Urban will join forces for a tribute to rock and R&B pioneer Bo Diddley, who died last year.
Hugh Jackman is a showman, not a comedian. Can he keep the Oscars from flagging this year?(AP file)
At yesterday's annual Oscar nominees luncheon, Academy president Sid Ganis seemed to actually be warning the entertainers gathered for the photo op that this year's Oscars ceremony will be "truly different" and "a show that takes some risks." "Stay alert," he said, adding: "You're in for a big surprise."
Like what changes, exactly? Well, on that point he's been positively coy. We hear this every year, of course, particularly in recent ones as viewership of the telecast has dropped like, well, a gold-plated Oscar (last year's TV audience was a record low: 32 million). But this year -- for good or ill -- there might actually be some serious changes.
Here's what we can piece together as to how the show might actually take a left turn ...
More leaked footage from Katie Couic's upcoming pre-Grammys special, this time a clip of Katy Perry discussing how the scary documentary "Jesus Camp" reflects her upbringing even though her mom dated Jimi Hendrix and her dad hung out with Timothy Leary ...
If Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III" wins album of the year, the rapper won't be alone at the podium. The award, bestowed on an album's artists, producers, engineers and mixers, means Wayne's world of 42 contributors may congregate on stage to thank God and their moms.
It easily beats the last stampede in the album category, Outkast's 2003 champ "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below." The hip-hop duo shared the spoils with 15 engineers/mixers, two mastering engineers and producer Carl Mo.
Read all five parts of Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert's look ahead at the Academy Awards, "Elevating the Oscar Winners" here:
Part 1: Best Motion Picture
Best film: "Milk." I was truly shaken by how deeply I was moved by the closing shot of the candlelight parade down San Francisco's Castro Street, the memorial to the murdered Harvey Milk, who had started here and become the nation's first openly gay public official.
Part 2: Best Leading Actor
It is impossible not to be implicated with a career performance by an actor you have long observed and admired. I've met Mickey Rourke, been on locations, admired him, deplored his self-destruction (which was not by the usual Hollywood routes but because of disastrous career decisions and uncontrolled personal intensity).
Part 3: Best Leading Actress
Best Actress: Melissa Leo. What a complete performance, evoking a woman's life in a time of economic hardship. The most timely of films, but that isn't reason enough. I was struck by how intensely determined she was to make the payments, support her two children, carry on after her abandonment by a gambling husband, and still maintain rules and goals around the house. This was a heroic woman.
Part 4: Best Supporting Actor
I expect the late Heath Ledger to win the Oscar for best supporting actor for "The Dark Knight," but I'm not choosing his performance as the "most elevating" out of sympathy. It was elevating for an entirely separate reason: He transformed the character of the Joker, who we thought we knew so well, into a suffering, haunted being, stripped of all emotion except for ruthless self-pity.
Part 5: Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, of course. She walks into "Doubt," which is a great film to begin with, and stuns us with a scene that portrays an entire reality outside the closed world of the school. She's the mother of a boy who the school principal thinks may have been abused, and in words of fire and insight, she shows how well she understands her son and the choices in his life. She pulls the ground out from under both the nun and the audience.
Robert Downey Jr., nominated for best actor in a supporting role for "Tropic Thunder" arrives at the Academy Award luncheon Monday in Beverly Hills, Calif.(Chris Pizzello/AP)
Robert Downey Jr. is grooving on the great irony of being nominated for a supporting Oscar as "Tropic Thunder's" Kirk Lazarus, a pretentious Aussie actor who is so Method that he dyes his skin to play a black character.
"It's so funny to me that the role is a guy who is an Oscar-seeking moron. His whole motivation is Oscars," he says during a shooting break. He's starring in the first major big-screen version of "Sherlock Holmes" in more than 20 years, which moved from the streets of London to Brooklyn last month and wraps this week.
He then adds, "Irony is synonymous with pretty much everything that is going on."
Academy Award nominees gather for a group photo call Monday at the annual luncheon in Beverly Hills Calif.(Chris Carlson/AP)
Promising an Oscar show that will be "truly different," Academy president Sid Ganis used the annual Nominees Luncheon to put this year's awards hopefuls on notice.
Teasingly withholding actual specifics, Ganis on Monday warned that "it's going to be a show that takes some risks." Speaking directly to the actors, he warned, "Your categories are being presented in a completely different way. Heads up."
Turning to the entire room full of 112 nominees gathered at the Beverly Hilton's International Ballroom, he added, "Cinematographers, editors, composers. All of you guys. You're in for a big surprise."
In the Grammys' efforts to entertain you, they've been giving out fewer and fewer awards during the actual telecast in recent years. Instead, they fill the time with performers and more performers, thinking that's why you tune in. Ratings be damned.
The bulk of the awards are given out during a pre-show, which isn't televised. This year, however, you can at least watch it online ...