(Photo by Searchlight/courtesy Everett Collection)
Every year, after the fracas of awards season and studio campaigning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out the ultimate prize in cinema, the explicit recommendation that if you’re only going to watch one movie, make it the one we picked. We’re talking the Oscar for Best Picture. Less than 100 of these have been handed out through the centuries. But ever wonder how the movies of this exclusive golden club would fare against each other?
Welcome to our countdown of every Best Picture winner ever, from the Certified Fresh (Casablanca, Schindler’s List, Argo, Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King…most of them, fortunately), the kinda Fresh (Out of Africa, Forrest Gump), to the ‘HUH? HOW?’ Rottens (The Broadway Melody, Cimarron).
And now we’ve added Coda as the 95th Best Picture Oscar winner. See where all the films place in our guide to Best Picture Winners, Ranked by Tomatometer!
After being alerted to Dev Patel’s existence by his Skins-watching daughter, director Danny Boyle cast the then 17-year-old actor in 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire. The film, which was originally dropped by Warner Independent after the studio doubted its commercial prospects, would go on to gross over $350 million worldwide, win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and make international stars out of leads Patel and Freida Pinto.
It would be hard to match that kind of explosive feature debut, and for the next several years, only the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel cinematic universe films would come close to that early critical and box office success. But Patel came roaring back with Lion, the true-story drama that would earn him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nom, with the film itself ultimately in the running for Best Picture. The Certified Fresh Hotel Mumbai and Personal History of David Copperfield followed, and now Patel is getting career-best review write-ups for A24’s Arthurian jam, The Green Knight.
Read on to see all Dev Patel movies, ranked by Tomatometer!
Since 1943, the Golden Globes have been celebrating the biggest, brightest, and starriest movies of the year. Now, we’re taking every Golden Globe Best Motion Picture winner — including the categories for Drama, Comedy/Musical, and that brief period of unadulterated hedonism during the 1950s/1960s when Musical and Comedy were separated — and ranking them using our weighted formula, which factors each movie’s number of collected critics reviews and its original year of release. We’ve caught up with Nomadland and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm taking home the big two in 2021, and making space for 2022’s eventual winners. For now, see all Golden Globes Best Picture winners by Tomatometer!
Slumdog Millionaire‘s American audiences were enticed to watch by the
name of director Danny Boyle or the movie’s kinetic exploration of an exotic,
far-away underbelly. In India, the selling point very well may have been
Anil Kapoor. Kapoor, who portrays the movie’s shifty host of India’s version of Who
Wants to Be a Millionaire?, is the movie’s biggest Bollywood name, something
fashioned over three decades of work, which includes Mr. India (an early work by
Elizabeth director Shekhar Kapur for which Kapoor received great critical
acclaim). The story of Kapoor’s first international movie is a story we
know well now — the plot, the controversies, the international box office
success, and the endless trophies (including an ultimate Oscar Best Picture and
Kapoor’s own share of a SAG Oustanding Cast award). As he pursues new projects
in America (and on the release of Slumdog on DVD), RT sat down with Kapoor to get his Five Favorite Films.
The films that really changed my life were all the films made by Charlie Chaplin. Films like
The Gold Rush. They were silent films, they were black and white. As a kid,
I would just completely get mesmerized with every aspect of cinema. That kind of magic I’d never yet seen, the magic Charlie Chaplin created on screen — in terms of performances, in terms of technique, in terms of innocence, in terms of purity. I would wonder, “Is there anyone in the world who can match this?” I would see other films, and I’d think, “No, this guy is a real genius.” He makes me smile.
And sometimes he moves me.
Ah, City Lights.
[It] doesn’t [really] make an effort to do comedy or [try] to make me cry. It just flows so naturally.
A true artist. And you don’t have to be sensible [to watch Chaplin’s
films]. You [can be] a kid but you still can understand his films. [One] doesn’t need education, academic education, to understand or enjoy his films. And I would see in the theater, in the audience, all kinds of people: children, parents, grandparents, poor, rich, very rich people, everybody in the theater enjoying his films.
Chaplin really influenced me on being an actor. And I remember, back in India, Raj Kapoor, was greatly influenced by Charlie Chaplin.
[Kapoor] became one of the biggest filmmakers of our country. You know, [Kapoor] is one of the few filmmakers who are very very known in that part of the world, especially Russia and the Middle East, the Far East. All the countries, one of the most famous filmmakers, Raj Kapoor. And he was influenced by Charlie Chaplin.
Everybody says, “Are you influenced by Raj Kapoor?” and I say, “No, I’m not inspired by Raj Kapoor, I’m inspired by Charlie Chaplin.” It all goes back to that. And if you see my films, films like Woh 7 Din, Mr. India, and all those kinds of films, there is a bit of Chaplin. In every role which I do to this day, there is that flavor, because I’ve been influenced by all this. I will always think, if there is a scene, I will always have him in mind. Even in Slumdog Millionaire…
[My performance in Slumdog Millionaire] is very animated, it’s very flamboyant.
That influence always works when I’m doing those kinds of roles. There are certain times when I’m slightly larger than life and animated, still in control and still looking natural, and not looking like a buffoon, and not looking caricaturish. Still looking real. I think some way it is the influence of Charlie Chaplin. And even if I can achieve one percent or two percent of what he has achieved in this life in terms of art, in terms of what he has done, I’ll feel pretty fulfilled. When I try to do stuff which he has done, a little bit here and there, then I realize what a great man he was, and what a great character he was, and what he accomplished. Very, very difficult. I heard that he would rehearse for hours and days for every punch. For every
punch. And there are times when I’m doing my films, I say, “Let’s copy this
punch on this film.” And we could never get it. We just couldn’t get it.
You can go into the depth and go inside into his mind, and it’s like miles and miles of depth. Which you can’t really get in the actor’s realm, but Charlie Chaplin could get. And his speech in The Great Dictator, the way he spoke when he played Hitler in The Great Dictator. It is one of the greatest monologues to come out of cinema. Nobody has ever been able to achieve that.
I feel performance cannot be done in isolation. So when I talk about teamwork, when I talk about timing between two actors, timing between two actors, I think about Laurel & Hardy. It’s like two sides of a coin. It’s the quickest examples of two people creating magic, two actors creating magic. I look up to these people [and] I get influenced by [them], because I try to create these things. I see others trying to create that thing, but nobody has succeeded yet.
Laurel & Hardy [are] completely timeless. And anything in art which is timeless — it might be architecture, it might be paintings, whatever you do — [if] it’s great art, it will entertain the people all over the world for centuries and centuries.
Everything just fell in place. The right people, the right director, the right script, the right timing, what the world was going through. Everything just fell right. So
Godfather, Slumdog Millionaire, Laurel & Hardy, and Chaplin. Well, it’s too early to talk about
Slumdog, but I’m sure after 50 or 100 years people are going to say that everything just fell in the right [place] for
The Godfather is not [just] an American hit, it’s really a worldwide film. Anywhere [you go]: China, Japan, Mexico. Everywhere students of cinema, ordinary people, everybody just loved the film. It’s got that cinematic magic, The Godfather. And, you know, it’s the lighting, the camerawork, the editing, the performances, the casting, the colors, the costumes. It was cinema at its best, and I’m sure it is something which, as you say, was written. Just everything fell in place. It doesn’t happen with everybody, it’s [when] people are [from] a certain kind of work culture [that] these things happen normally.
What I like about The Godfather [is that] it’s very classical. [Coppola] just leaves the camera. You never see the camera moving. It’s very static and it’s the actors [who are moving]. [But] still you create the magic. You don’t have to juggle the camera to attract attention.
The music also is very subtle. Everything is subtle. Your mind is throbbing, your [hairs are] rising, you’re on the edge of your seat, but still everything is so calm and relaxed. It’s cinema at its best. Slumdog? That’s also cinema at its best but everything [is] movement. There’s so much movement, there’s so much energy, the script is moving, the screenplay, the camera is moving, the actors are moving, everything is moving. But still, you understand the story. It is in control. Still, it moves you.
Catch Anil Kapoor in Slumdog Millionaire on DVD this week. For more Five Favorite Films, visit our archive.
Jai Ho it up with the DVD debut of Danny Boyle’s multiple Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire! It’s also your week to catch films you might have missed in theaters, from Jennifer Aniston’s tale of puppy love (Marley & Me) to the latest heart-wrencher from Will Smith (Seven Pounds). Those who dare to go foreign will be justly rewarded with two well-reviewed imports (the French thriller Tell No One and the Spanish sci-fi Timecrimes), while art-house devotees have two remastered Wong Kar-Wai films to choose from (Happy Together and Fallen Angels). Horror fans have an octet of new flicks to check out (After Dark Horror Fest 8 Films to Die For)…and did we mention the sweet new Blu-ray that should be on the top of any philosophical cyberpunk’s wishlist (The Matrix 10th Anniversary Blu-ray Digibook)?
Jai Ho it up this week with the multiple Oscar-winning feel-good hit, Slumdog Millionaire! Danny Boyle‘s Dickensian Best Picture-winner, about an Indian working-class hero who competes on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, won over audiences and critics last year thanks to energetic filmmaking, a sweetly romantic story, and its exotic, catchy soundtrack. (That end-sequence Bollywood number, set to composer A.R. Rahman’s Oscar-winning song, “Jai Ho,” didn’t hurt either; even Ellen DeGeneres couldn’t resist recreating the dance on her daytime talk show.) If you missed the Little Film That Could in theaters (it narrowly avoided the ignominy of a direct-to-video release), you can bring it home today and relive all the feel-goodness of our most recent Oscar season.
Slumdog Millionaire comes to DVD in single-disc and Blu-ray releases. I know, single-disc; these days getting just one disc in a new release seems a bit skimpy, but Fox Home Entertainment has actually packed a decent host of extras here, including a commentary track by Best Director Boyle and star Dev Patel and a second commentary with writer Simon Beaufoy and producer Christian Colson (both of whom won Oscars for their work). The DVD also includes a dozen deleted scenes. On Blu-ray you’ll get the above, plus additional behind-the-scenes featurettes, a music video, and a short film by newbie Rahi Anil Bharve (Manjha) which was hand-picked by Boyle.
Want more of the Bollywood-meets-Hollywood genre? Check out Desperate Housewives hottie Jesse Metcalfe in the cross-global romance The Other End of the Line (27%), in which he romances Bollywood star Shriya Saran.
Below, watch an exclusive deleted scene from Slumdog Millionaire.
Next: Aniston, Wilson, and Marley & Me
Everyone knows there’s nothing cuter than a puppy, a fact well-exploited by the filmmakers behind Marley & Me. (If you haven’t seen it yet, we recommend you do your best to avoid spoilers.) Based on the non-fiction bestseller by John Grogan, Marley & Me follows a couple (Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson) and their adventures with their beloved-but-rambunctious yellow Labrador, Marley. Though critics called it only sporadically funny, this sentimental flick is a must-see for pet owners and animal-lovers — especially the kind that lets their dogs kiss them on the mouth. (It’s really unsanitary, people.) Pick up the 2-Disc Bad Dog Edition for a ton of extended/deleted scenes, a director commentary, making-of featurettes, a PSA for animal adoption, a gag reel, and more.
Next: Will Smith in Seven Pounds
Superstar Will Smith has got range to rival any working actor in Hollywood (Six Degrees of Separation — drama! Independence Day — action! Ali — boxing!) and part of what’s impressive about him is his ever-varying career path. Unfortunately for Smith, he decided to follow up his blockbuster flicks I Am Legend and Hancock with Seven Pounds, a gimmicky thriller about an auditor on a secret mission involving seven strangers — a twisty, complicated schmaltz fest that critics tore to pieces. Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes (including one on a particularly deadly species of jellyfish) and a commentary by director Gabriele Muccino (who directed Smith in the superior Pursuit of Happyness) accompany the film.
Next: French thrills in Tell No One
You may not have heard of this French import thriller, but the fact that it made numerous critics’ Top Ten lists last year should be reason to check it out this week on DVD. Eight years after his wife’s murder, a doctor (Francoise Cluzet) is pulled into a web of intrigue when his dead wife resurfaces, alive and well. Actor-director Guillaume Canet helms this twisty thriller, with a supporting cast led by Kristin Scott Thomas, Francois Berleand (the Transporter trilogy), and Marie-Josée Croze (Munich‘s Dutch assassin).
Next: A time-travel movie that actually makes sense!
First time director Nacho Vigalondo (who earned an Oscar nomination for his 2003 short film, 7:35 de la Mañana) makes an impressive feature-length debut with Timecrimes, a Spanish-language science-fiction black comedy about one ordinary man who, thanks to a fateful encounter with a time travel machine, must contend with and battle alternate versions of himself. Critics loved the lo-fi thriller, noting that — against all odds — its sci-fi logic just might make the most sense of any time travel movie ever made. Hollywood liked Timecrimes, too — an English-language remake is already in the works. See the original this week and get a jump on your fellow movie geeks.
Next: Don’t even try to pronounce it – Cthulhu
Based on the H.P. Lovecraft novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth, this indie horror pic follows a history professor (Jason Cottle) to his Pacific Northwest home town, where he becomes embroiled in a local New Age cult who he believes plans a mass human sacrifice. The townsfolk are a weird bunch — Tori Spelling plays one, for example (and sexually assaults our hero to boot, blech) — who worship a fabled sea creature. While more gay panic allegory than straight up science fiction, Cthulhu will find its own cult audience among Lovecraft geeks, who incidentally are the only ones with any clue as to how you pronounce “Cthulhu.”
Next: Two classic Vincente Minnelli musicals come to Blu-ray
It’s hard to say what portion of the Blu-ray audience will overlap with the demographic for these classic musicals, but if you’re a Playstation 3-owning grandma, have we got the new releases for you! Golden Age auteur Vincente Minnelli directed actress Leslie Caron in both films (both also written by the writing team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe), which have been given the Blu-ray treatment in honor of Warner Bros.’ 85th Anniversary. In An American in Paris (1951), Caron gets wooed by American expatriate Gene Kelly to Gershwin tunes like “I Got Rhythm,” “S’Wonderful,” and “Our Love is Here To Stay.” In Gigi (1958), Caron is a turn-of-the-century Parisian girl being groomed as a courtesan who falls for Louis Jordan (AKA Kamal Khan from Octopussy). Both Blu-ray releases include extras ported over from their previous 2-Disc Special Editions, which are great for fans of Old Hollywood.
Next: A Wong Kar-Wai double bill — Happy Together and Fallen Angels
Lyrical filmmaker Wong-Kar Wai made his international breakthrough with this tragic romance about an on-and-off gay Chinese couple living as expatriates in Argentina. Working with the late Hong Kong pop star Leslie Cheung (who had previously starred in Wong’s Days of Being Wild and Ashes of Time) as the promiscuous Po-Wing, and fellow Wong collaborator Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (Ashes of Time, In the Mood For Love, 2046) as his lover, Lai Yiu-Fai, Wong won the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The new Kino Special Edition offers a remastered cut of the film, a previously-released making-of documentary, trailers and stills, and a 2008 feature from Wong Kar-Wai’s career retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image.
The director’s 1995 film about a Hong Kong hitman and his agent, Fallen Angels (95%), is also available on a new Special Edition this week.
Next: The After Dark HorrorFest III collection
Horror fans have eight new titles to look forward to, as the third annual After Dark HorrorFest slate comes to DVD. Horrors range from cannibals (Slaughter) to cults (Perkins’ 14), to unnecessary sequels (The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations), and include Korean horror (Voices) and pics with familiar faces (Autopsy, starring Robert Patrick , Michael Bowen, and 90210’s Jessica Lowndes). Rounding out the octet are an Australian outback flick (Dying Breed, starring Saw scribe Leigh Whannell), a suicide thriller (From Within, featuring Rumer Willis and The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ Thomas Dekker), and the Lena Headey vehicle The Broken, which is surprisingly helmed by Brit newcomer Sean Ellis (Cashback).
Next: Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of The Matrix!
There may be no spoon, but this week, there is a must-have Blu-ray: The Matrix 10th Anniversary Blu-ray Book, which brings the essential existential sci-fi adventure to Blu-ray for the first time as a single-film release. Of course, if you already own either the Matrix Trilogy or Ultimate Matrix Collections on Blu-ray, this will be an unnecessary addition to your library — but if not, take advantage of this title, which comes in digibook packaging that includes a 47-page booklet crammed with Matrix trivia. Special features on the Blu-ray are plentiful and include a digital copy of the film, four expert commentary tracks, a feature-length documentary and much more.
Until next week, happy renting!
Few will forget Bill Pullman‘s rousing speech as the US president in Independence Day, but it’s only one of a long string of vast and diverse roles that have seen him cast as romantic lead, action hero, comedy star and dark villain. In more than twenty years of screen acting he’s defined himself as a hard-working, engaging talent.
His latest film, Surveillance, opens in UK cinemas this week. Directed by Jennifer Lynch, it casts Pullman as one of a pair of FBI agents (with Julia Ormond) tracking down the culprit of a grisly collection of seemingly unpremeditated murders. With a fine ensemble cast it’s an original crime thriller; only Lynch’s second film since her 1993 debut Boxing Helena. It will open in the US on 26th June.
Of his five favourite films, Pullman says his choices depend on mood and context. “I always feel like there are a lot of different types of favourites,” he tells RT. “there are some that I look to for interesting things, some that I look to for acting things, others that I watch again and again. I don’t know if this is in any sort of order!”
“This is always the first choice when people say they have a new television set or home cinema system and they want to watch a great visual movie. I always choose this because I feel it has an incredible presence.”
“I like The Searchers for the same reason. I like to see those performances again and just the way that without special effects or tweaked shots or CGI or whatever you get this expansive feeling of being in the outdoors.”
“When I was in college, first year, I saw it and I really hadn’t been exposed to a lot of European filmmakers. It’s such a ‘film’ film. It wasn’t required viewing, it was just a film playing on campus and I hadn’t been interested in film before then. Nowadays people are deciding to get into film at age five when they’re sitting, watching the Oscars. I really didn’t come out of that culture — I was pretty much a John Wayne fan and that was it. Zabriskie Point was a time when I was in a lot of change and flux and these incredible visuals hit me like they had rearranged the organs in my body. The ending and the free-floating debris and everything is an image that burned itself in my consciousness.”
“It’s a little bit of a Slumdog movie in a way of somebody coming from incredibly unlikely beginnings and climbing through a lot of incredibly hard challenges to get somewhere. As an actor you’re continually riding the waves of whether you’re in or out, getting work or not getting work, and Kazan was really a guy who was condemned into not working and looking to go deep into someplace and just live inside his art.”
“This is one I’ve watched a couple of different times in a couple of different forms. I’ve watched the film version and I’ve also seen the mini-series. I think when I first saw that it changed my idea of acting. I go back to it sometimes just to put myself back in that place where my discoveries about what was possible on a film and the level of immersion between people — this incredible dance that they do — really formed.”
Surveillance opens in UK cinemas this week. It will open in the US on 26th June.
In the movie world there is no event greater, no red carpet glitzier, no awards show more meaningful, than that of the Academy Awards. While millions watch the biggest night in Hollywood via television and thousands post show commentaries on their blogs (or, in the case of this year, on Twitter), Rotten Tomatoes was on the ground, right smack dab in the middle of it all. Read on as RT’s Jen Yamato recounts this year’s Oscars show, from the best parts of the musical-laden telecast to the quiet moments backstage with the night’s triumphant winners.
Jen here! After weeks of anticipation and months of populating Rotten Tomatoes’ Awards Tour with major awards show news, galleries, trivia, and interviews with this year’s Oscar nominees and winners, the day finally came to cover the Superbowl of movies: The 81st Annual Academy Awards! So on Sunday afternoon, I gussied myself up (left) — formal wear mandatory, even for the backstage press room — and headed to the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel to camp out for the next eight hours. It was just like my Senior Prom, only instead of a tuxedoed date (he’d worn white a la Mickey Rourke this year, incidentally) I’d be cozied up with my laptop, watching glamorous A-listers traipse up and down the red carpet practicing their best “It was an honor just to be nominated” faces.
Would Kate Winslet break the Susan Lucci curse and wrestle the Best Actress trophy from Meryl Streep‘s greedy paws? Could any film other than Slumdog Millionaire really contend for the Best Picture prize? Would Hugh Jackman usher in a new era of song-and-dance hosting, or make us long for the days of a Billy Crystal wisecrack? And would Beyonce please change out of that black and gold mermaid dress, which someone apparently made from her grandma’s drapery??
— Oscar host Hugh Jackman, before launching into the opening musical sequence
Oscar watchers had known for a while that this year’s show would be different; ratings in recent years had dipped so low that some wondered if the Academy could ever get America watching again. (ABC’s early numbers show that ratings were up six percent from last year’s all time low of 32 million viewers.) But who knew it would be this different?
Filmmakers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark (the writer/director and producer of 2006’s Oscar-winning Dreamgirls, respectively) were tapped to produce the show, no doubt in hopes that they would jazz up the proceedings. As they’d done to the film musical genre (with Dreamgirls and Chicago, which Condon wrote), the duo injected the Oscar show with a healthy smattering of shuffle-ball-changes and jazz hands, employing Aussie stage star-turned-Wolverine Hugh Jackman to lead two huge musical numbers; the first one, lampooning the Best Picture nominees, worked (thanks in large part to singing starlet Anne Hathaway, plucked from the crowd to duet with Jackman in the spirit of Frost/Nixon).
The second number, featuring guest stars Beyonce, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper, Zac Efron, and Vanessa Hudgens…not so much. Even with help from Baz Luhrmann — the king of the overdone, sentimental spectacle — the ode to music in movies from Jackman and Co. had many viewers wondering when the Oscars had become the Tony Awards. That is, those viewers who knew what the Tonys are to begin with. Others (read: the under-40 crowd) just squirmed in their seats until the singing and dancing were over.
Fun fact: The Oscars provide an “Academy Librarian” in the press room to answer your nerdiest, most obscure Oscar-related questions. When did Oscar last feature an all-star musical number?
It was back in 1990, two years after the infamous Alan Carr-produced spectacle-debacle featuring Snow White and Rob Lowe. My personal favorite is the sequence from the year before, with “stars of the future” like Ricki Lake, Patrick Dempsey, and Corey Feldman.
Next: Backstage with Kate Winslet, Best Actress winner
— Kate Winslet, after winning the Oscar for Best Actress
Being backstage in the press room amounts to a lot of waiting around. You can tune in to the telecast on a headset when the winners, ushered to us after receiving their Oscars, are not at the podium taking questions. Even then, it becomes tedious; I hate to say it, but even journalists don’t much care what a production designer or technical Oscar-winner has to say. So you look forward to the big stars coming through, for the moments of true giddiness and jubilance that can only be delivered by an actor or actress who’s been waiting years for their moment to shine.
Kate Winslet gave us one of those big emotional moments. At the end of a three hour plus telecast, her speech onstage revealed a bundle of nerves — a seasoned actress who, despite numerous accolades this year alone, was obviously still blown away by her first Academy Award win.
Backstage minutes later, she was still visibly overwhelmed. Clutching her Oscar with both hands, shock still on her face, Winslet still had tears of joy in her eyes. After answering a few minutes of questions, she paused. “It’s sort of dawning on me now that I just won an Oscar,” she mumbled, looking down at the statuette. “It’s only starting to sink in right now actually. Oh, my God.”
When a familiar voice took the microphone to ask the next question, she ran off the stage to greet him. “Baz, where are you?” After greeting Daily Mail columnist Baz Bamigboye with a hug — he’s been interviewing her for almost two decades — she returned.
On the controversy surrounding her film The Reader, for which she won Best Actress: “I don’t have any concerns, you know. I mean, I can’t be responsible for the emotional response that an audience has to any film,” she said. “I don’t think any actor really can, and I think going into it, I was very aware that if an audience did feel any level of sympathy for Hanna, and they felt morally compromised as a consequence, that would be an interesting emotion for them to then deal with. It certainly wasn’t my intention to make people sympathize with an SS guard.”
Next: Best Actor Sean Penn gets political in the press room
— Sean Penn, after winning the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Harvey Milk
In stark contrast to the highly emotional Winslet, Best Actor winner Sean Penn strode into the press room as if entering a post office; there to run an errand, to do a job required of him: to talk to the press. His Oscar was nowhere to be seen. He stood, hands in pockets, and answered a line of questioning prompted by his politically-charged acceptance speech.
“I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect,” Penn had said during the telecast, “and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support.” It was poetic justice of sorts for the man who’d portrayed slain gay activist Harvey Milk to receive the night’s top acting honor while outside, anti-gay demonstrators surrounded the Oscar perimeter with signs. In the press room, Penn continued to shame those detractors. What would he say if he should come face to face with them?
“I’d tell them to turn in their hate card and find their better self,” he answered. “I think that these are largely taught limitations and ignorances…it’s very sad in a way, because it’s a demonstration of such emotional cowardice to be so afraid to be extending the same rights to a fellow man as you would want for yourself.”
After a string of politically-themed questioning (What does Penn think of Barack Obama’s stance on gay marriage? He hopes it’s not a “future one or a felt one”), Penn was ready for lighter talk. Could he describe his friendship with fellow nominee Mickey Rourke, who many felt might steal the Oscar from underneath Penn’s nose?
“I’ve been making movies for over 25 years and I can’t speak for his consistent sense of me. He’s an excellent bridge burner at times, but we’ve had for the most part a very close friendship,” Penn shared. “And he’s somebody that I alternatively looked up to and advised and directed, I’ve wanted to work with and admired and quite literally had me, almost throughout The Wrestler, weeping.”
“He’s one of our most talented actors; he always was. Comebacks are funny, and we talk about it with him, but everyone in this room has to make a comeback every day. Life is tough. And I think what’s sensational about him is always what’s been sensational about him; he’s one of the great poetic talents in acting that we have.”
Next: Montages, skits, and everything in between — did the telecast work?
— Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski
Of course, while winners are addressing the press backstage, there’s still a show going on. This year’s production introduced new concepts and experiments; what would hold audiences’ attention, or help the Academy get past its popular reputation as an elitist night of self congratulation?
The answer: montages and skits, and lots of them. The Academy worked closely with Hollywood’s major studios to trade on-air exposure for content that could engage the minds of American viewers. Space Chimps, for example, would never have been mentioned in a previous year’s show, but it made an appearance in the night’s Animation reel. Step Brothers, a Will Ferrell comic flop, showed up briefly in the Comedy tribute. Even the show’s closing credits featured a montage highlighting upcoming films, most of which (Sherlock Holmes, Old Dogs, Terminator Salvation) aren’t exactly Oscar material and in all honesty won’t be nominated at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.
In one skit, Pineapple Express stars Seth Rogen and James Franco watched the “Oscars” in character as their stoner counterparts, a funny bit (for a bit) that included the random appearance of Oscar-winning DP Janusz Kaminski: “Suck on that, Anthony Dod Mantle!” Mantle did, in fact, suck on that, later winning the Academy Award for Cinematography for Slumdog Millionaire.
Zeitgeist-capturing catch phrases were as plentiful as if in any Shrek film, from Ben Stiller‘s post-postmodern Joaquin Phoenix shtick to Will Smith‘s ad-lib following a teleprompter flub: “Boom goes the dynamite!” Even the old fogies on ABC’s pre-show red carpet coverage had learned to reference Twitter, which was the new media forum du jour for the night.
Next: Heath Ledger’s family remembers their son backstage
— Kate Ledger on her late brother and Best Supporting Actor winner, Heath Ledger
When asked if we had questions for the Ledger family, the entire room answered together in one shout: “YES!” And so the family of the late Heath Ledger — father Kim, mother Sally, and sister Kate — came in to discuss his posthumous Oscar win for portraying The Joker in Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
Gingerly but with quiet strength, the trio answered inquiries on a range of topics.
Would they take the Oscar home to Australia? (By Academy rule, it belongs to Heath’s daughter Matilda, who can claim it when she turns 18.)
How would Heath have reacted to his win? (“I think he would be really quietly pleased,” said mother Sally Bell.)
How close is the family to Matilda’s mother, actress Michelle Williams? (“Very close,” answered Kate Ledger. “She’s doing an amazing job with Matilda, and we speak all the time so we’re in constant contact and always will be.”)
Lastly, Ledger’s sister shared what she’d seen of Heath’s unfinished film, Terry Gilliam‘s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. “We have seen a little bit of footage,” she said. “He only completed about a third of the film. And we’ve had some incredible actors — Johnny Depp and Jude Law and Colin Farrell — step in to complete it. And I think it’s going to be…amazing.”
“Terry is amazing and Heath always had such enthusiasm and interest in whatever Terry was doing,” she concluded.
Next: Best Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz thanks Woody Allen
Spanish actress Penelope Cruz kicked off the night with one of the first major awards — Best Supporting Actress, for her fiery performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona — which marked her first Oscar win. (I personally think she was robbed in 2006 in the Best Actress race, which she lost to Helen Mirren.) After threatening to faint onstage in her acceptance speech, she made her way to the press room, where she stood serenely, cradling her Academy Award in the crook of one arm as if it were a bouquet of roses and she’d just been crowned Miss Universe.
Cruz explained that while filming Vicky Cristina Barcelona she was quite insecure in her performance, and only learned that the film was a comedy at its Cannes premiere.
“When you’re working with Woody Allen you know that you can trust the person that you’re working with and if he doesn’t like something he will tell you,” she explained. “If he likes it, he will tell you. He’s not a man of too many words, but he’s honest and that’s what counts for me. We just trusted him. We did the whole movie in four weeks — four and a half weeks, so I had no idea what it was to be.
With the Oscars this year and last going largely to foreign winners (including Cruz’s real-life boyfriend and Vicky Cristina Barcelona co-star, Javier Bardem), is Hollywood opening itself up to honor international filmmakers? Cruz thought so.
“Could you work in America if you have an accent? Yes, you can. And that has been changing in the last 10 or 15 years. It was much harder before, but movies represent life, movies represent what happens in the streets. Then we are all in this together.”
After doing her duty, Cruz left the room to return to her seat and watch the Oscars, as she’d said she’d done as a child growing up in the Spanish town of Alcobendas.
Next: Slumdog Millionaire’s Danny Boyle shouts out to Rotten Tomatoes
— Slumdog Millionaire producer Christian Colson, backstage after his Best Picture win
In the Oscars press room, you sit in an assigned seat amongst a sea of journalists from around the globe, every one of them decked out in tuxes and gowns, for formality’s sake; the official, scan-able press badge must also be worn at all times, no matter how it clashes with your outfit. Lucky ones get to park their laptops and recording devices at a table, from which they write and file reports throughout the night. Food and non-alcoholic beverages are kindly catered in the hallway (try the shrimp!), and you’re free to roam, headset in ear tuned to ABC’s official telecast, around a guarded 50-foot perimeter. It’s a strange combination of traditional etiquette and voluntary imprisonment, and the tightest-run ship in movie journalism.
At every seat there is an assigned number card, which you must hold up to be called on during each press conference. If your number is called, you’ll get the microphone to ask a winner one of ten or so questions before they’re shuffled offstage, to escape back into the safety of the Kodak Theater and rejoin the show. Rotten Tomatoes’ number was 141, and it was called once — at the end of the night, while the night’s biggest winner, Slumdog director Danny Boyle, was taking questions.
“Rotten Tom-ah-toes? We love Rotten Tom-ah-toes!” shouted Slumdog producer Christian Colson, who along with Boyle received an Oscar for the film. “It’s got a 95!”
(Slumdog Millionaire actually has a 94 percent Tomatometer rating. For a second I thought about it, then politely declined to correct Colson; he was only off by one point.)
Boyle, whose naturally jubilant demeanor was especially cheerful after eight Slumdog wins on the night, stood with his Oscar in his left hand and a glass of champagne in his right. “My other film, Millions, also did really well on Rotten Tom-ah-toes!” (He was right — Millions scored an 88 percent Tomatometer and won the Golden Tomato Award for best-reviewed family film.)
After the shout out, Boyle answered my question: even with all of its Oscars and accolades, does he still think Slumdog is and should be an imperfect film? He used the opportunity to reiterate his onstage mention of choreographer Longinus, who directed Slumdog‘s end-credits dance sequence. At his side, Colson jumped in to praise Boyle for having the humility to note his error while onstage accepting his Academy Award. “I don’t want to embarrass Danny, and this would embarrass him,” Colson began, “but it’s a measure of the man that in his Oscar acceptance speech, the last thing he addresses is forgetting someone off the credits, and I think that is awesome.”
Boyle and Colson also juxtaposed their tiny Slumdog — which nearly didn’t get a theatrical release — to the big studio flick The Dark Knight. “It was wonderful to see Heath Ledger’s work acknowledged in The Dark Knight,” Boyle said. “And it is extraordinary work. But like virtually, I am sure, everybody, Heath started small as well. He started [in] small films, you know. Everybody does and we’ve got to protect them.”
“And the studios have got to protect them as well,” he continued. “Because that’s where everybody starts, and they go on. Some people go on to some things and some don’t. But that’s where everybody begins, in those small independent movies. And you learn the business, you learn your craft, you learn what you are doing, you know. So, it’s very, very, very important. The first film I made [cost] a million pounds. The whole film cost a million pounds. That’s where you learn your craft.”
In the end, Boyle himself summed up his entire Slumdog experience. “This amazing British poet called WJ Jordan talks about Americans putting jukeboxes on the moon. Soon you will be putting jukeboxes on the moon. I love that expression, and that’s what tonight feels like. Just amazing like that. The bringing together of things that are just so unlikely and yet wonderful and about entertainment and pleasure and exploring things and changing things.”
Next: More of our favorite backstage snippets from Oscar’s big winners
— Wall-E director Andrew Stanton, Best Animated Film
— Best Cinematography winner Anthony Dod Mantle, on filming Slumdog Millionaire in the heart of Mumbai
— A.R. Rahman, composer of Slumdog Millionaire, on the absence of “O Saya” co-nominee M.I.A from the telecast (pictured below)
— Best Sound Mixing winner Resul Pookutty, the first Indian technician to earn a nomination
— Best Animated Short director Kunio Kato (via translator) on his “Mr. Roboto” acceptance speech
Still have Oscar fever? See the full list of winners from the 81st Annual Academy Awards, and browse our Oscars red carpet gallery. To find out where Slumdog Millionaire‘s 94 percent Tomatometer ranks among every Best Picture Oscar winner ever, check out our updated Best of the Best Pictures.
For award season interviews with Oscar nominees and winners, plus winners lists of every major award show and more, check out our Awards Tour.