Author: Arielle Darr
Millions tuned into ABC Sunday evening, Feb. 22, to watch the 81st Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. The Stewart-Cleland common room was packed with Oscar viewers waiting to see the stars and if their predictions would be accurate. “Its exciting to watch it every year in part because I normally watch all the movies and I love films,” Samantha Hill (first-year) said.”There’s also the celebrity factor and all the dresses [. . .] it’s just a great celebration of film and culture.”
As a result of declining viewership of the Academy Awards in recent years, a new production team was hired to bring a fresh perspective to the show and revamp its appearance. Newly contracted producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark did this by modifying the general script and theming, adding several musical numbers, concealing the premise of the ceremony and focusing on marketing. To entice viewers, the ceremony was publicly advertised as “The Biggest Movie Event of the Year” and a new set and stage were designed for the ceremony.
Actor Hugh Jackman hosted this year’s Oscars, which included several musical numbers and performances by Jackman, as well as Anne Hathaway, Beyoncé, Queen Latifah, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper.
Presenters throughout the night included James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jessica Biel, Natalie Portman, Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Jack Black, Sarah Jessica Parker, Daniel Craig, Robert Pattinson, Tina Fey, Steve Martin, Will Smith and Reese Witherspoon.
Oscar nominations were released on Jan. 22, 2009. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button led the pack with a total of 13 nominations. Slumdog Millionaire received ten, The Dark Knight and Milk received eight, and Doubt, The Reader and Frost/Nixon each received five. The animated film WALL-E received six, tying it with Beauty and the Beast for the most nominated animated film in Oscar history. In addition, Changeling and Revolutionary Road each received three nominations and The Duchess, Frozen River, Iron Man, Wanted and The Wrestler received two.
Penelope Cruz won Best Supporting Actress for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Heath Ledger won a posthumous award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight. “There is no way he can’t win,” Hill said. Ledger’s family accepted the Oscar for their son and brother. As each family member spoke, cameras panned around the theater, catching celebrities visibly tearing up.
Kate Winslet won an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in The Reader, her first award after six previous nominations. Best Actor was awarded to Sean Penn for his role in Milk. Steven Spielberg presented the award for Best Picture, which went to Slumdog Millionaire.
“I thought that Kate Winslet looked really pretty,” Jennifer Lara (sophomore) said. “And I enjoyed her acceptance speech because she seemed really genuine and actually honored to be nominated beside women like Meryl Streep.”
Slumdog Millionaire came away as the biggest winner of the 2009 Academy Awards, receiving eight Oscars, including: Best Picture, Best Director (Danny Boyle), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“Jai Ho”), Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing.
“When we started out, we had no stars, we had no power or muscle, we didn’t have enough money, really, to do what we wanted to do,” Slumdog’s producer Christian Colson said. “Most of all we had passion and we had belief, and our film shows that if you have those two things, truly anything is possible.”
The Awards also addressed issues affecting the film industry itself. In his opening number, Jackman joked about the recession as he sang and danced around the stage recreating each movie nominated for best picture.
“I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone,” Sean Penn said in his acceptance speech for the Best Actor award.
In addition, Dustin Lance Black, winner of Best Original Screenplay for Milk and an openly gay activist, pledged his support of gays everywhere.
The Academy’s new approach produced the desired increase in viewers. According to audience tracker Nielsen Media Research, the 81st Annual Academy Awards had a 10% increase in viewership from last year.
“I don’t know what it looks like on television, but in the room it’s bloody wonderful,” Danny Boyle, winner of Best Director for Slumdog Millionaire said. In an infamous night of fashion, awards, speeches and dance numbers, Penelope Cruz summed up the importance of the Oscars. “I always felt that this ceremony was a moment of unity for the world, because art in any form has, is and will always be our universal language, and we should do everything we can to protect its survival.”
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