Oscars begin with awards for Cruz, 'Slumdog'

By AFP

June 18, 2010 Updated Feb 22, 2009 at 11:11 PM EDT

Spanish siren Penelope Cruz and "Slumdog Millionaire" won early Oscars as a revamped Academy Awards got off to an electric start at Hollywood's Kodak Theater.

Cruz won the best supporting actress prize for her part in the steamy Woody Allen comedy "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" while best picture favorite "Slumdog" picked up its first award of the night for best adapted screenplay.

"Has anybody ever fainted here? Because I might be the first one," an overwhelmed Cruz said as she accepted her award.

In other early honors, Disney-Pixar's hit film "Wall-E" won the best animated movie award while gay rights biopic "Milk" earned a best original screenplay statuette for its writer Dustin Lance Black.

Period romance "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which began the night with 13 nominations, won two early Oscars in the technical categories of art direction and makeup.

The new-look awards extravaganza had got off to a flying start with Australian actor host Hugh Jackman wasting no time in launching into a medley of musical numbers that referenced this year's nominees.

Earlier, the stars of "Slumdog Millionaire" delighted onlookers on the red carpet with director Danny Boyle accompanying several of the child actors who were flown to Hollywood for the ceremony -- a world away from their lives in Mumbai's shantytowns.

"It's unbelievable. I never thought I'd be at the Oscars," said a beaming Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, one of the "Slumdog" child actors.

Khedekar and his young co-stars could later be seen crowding around to get autographs from British actor Daniel Craig, better known as British superspy 007 in the James Bond action films.

The red carpet roll call read like a who's who of the entertainment industry, with best actor and actress nominees Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie triggering excitement after they arrived together.

"It's a nice honor for us," Pitt said. "It's nice to be around people who we honor and respect."

The build-up to this year's ceremony has been dominated by the Bollywood-inspired "Slumdog," which has swept other awards and is considered the overwhelming favorite for the best picture statuette.

Pundits say "Slumdog" has delighted audiences with its rags-to-riches plot about a Mumbai tea boy who rises out from poverty and enters a television quiz show to win millions and be reunited with the love of his life.

Other rivals in the best picture category are "Benjamin Button," political drama "Frost/Nixon," biopic "Milk" and Holocaust drama "The Reader."

With "Slumdog" and Boyle heavily favored to win best picture and director, pundits are looking to the acting honors to provide suspense.

Sean Penn, who plays a trailblazing gay politician in "Milk," and Kate Winslet, who plays a Nazi death camp guard in "The Reader" are the front-runners in the best actor and actress categories.

However, Penn faces stiff competition from Mickey Rourke, who won last month's Golden Globes for playing a washed up prizefighter in "The Wrestler."

Meanwhile, Winslet's hopes of a first Academy Award after missing out on five previous occasions are threatened by two-time Oscar-winner Meryl Streep ("Doubt"), with Melissa Leo ("Frozen River") tipped as a dark horse.

In the supporting categories, late Australian actor Heath Ledger is poised to become only the second performer in history to win a posthumous Oscar, a year after his death from a drug overdose in New York.

Bookmakers have installed Ledger as the 1/50 favorite to win for his turn as the villainous Joker in Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight."




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