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.
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."
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 ...
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."