'Slumdog' leads UK charge at the Oscars

The tale of a boy from the slums of Mumbai is an early favourite for best film – with 16 more Brits in with a shout of glory, writes Guy Adams
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The Independent Culture

The rags-to-riches fairytale of Slumdog Millionaire entered a new chapter yesterday, when the film scooped 10 Oscar nominations and was installed as the odds-on favourite to be named best film at next month's Academy Awards.

Danny Boyle's stirring love story about a boy from the slums of Mumbai who is suspected of cheating on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? looks set to continue its unlikely domination of the 2009 awards season, when it leads a strong British challenge at Hollywood's blue riband event.

The film features no big stars, and includes large passages in Hindi, but has captured the public imagination, making $45m (£32m) at the US box office, more than four times its production budget, despite being on limited release.

"It's just amazing," said the film's teenage star, Dev Patel, yesterday. "When we first began working on the film I don't think any of us ever imagined that we might end up attending the Oscars ... I have been overwhelmed by the positive reaction to the film ... I truly feel blessed."

The success of Slumdog Millionaire helped home-grown talent and films gather a near-record 17 mentions on the Oscars shortlist, which was unveiled in Los Angeles.

Kate Winslet declared herself "thrilled" to be nominated as best actress for her portrayal of Nazi war criminal Hanna Schmitz in The Reader, which also scored nominations for its British director Stephen Daldry and writer David Hare.

"I'm extremely happy to have been nominated, and very fortunate," she said. "Playing Hanna Schmitz will always remain one of the biggest challenges I've ever been blessed with. I'm genuinely thrilled not just for myself but for the wonderful Stephen Daldry and David Hare. These nominations are a testament to their unwavering commitment." Winslet has never won an Oscar, despite being shortlisted five times. The Reader marks her best chance yet: bookies make her a narrow favourite over Ann Hathaway, after she pipped her rival at the Golden Globes.

Fans will be hoping she at least prepares an acceptance speech this time. At the Globes, Winslet's appearance on the podium swiftly became a YouTube hit, after she repeatedly instructed herself to "gather!" thanked most of the people she'd ever met, and sobbed: "I'm sorry ... I have a habit of not winning things!"

Another British frontrunner is Frost/Nixon, Peter Morgan's atmospheric tale of Sir David Frost's interviews with the former US president, which garnered five nominations, including best film, best director (for Ron Howard), and best actor (Frank Langella). "I'm delighted for the creatives who were involved, Peter and Ron, who hasn't made a movie this small since his early days, and for Frank," said Eric Fellner, a producer at Working Title, which released the film.

The US election certainly seemed to help political films. Milk, the story of Harvey Milk, America's first openly gay elected politician, secured eight nominations, including nods for best film, and for Sean Penn as best actor. "I think people are generally more interested in politics than they have been recently," said Mr Fellner.

The best overall showing yesterday went to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, an epic adaptation of F Scott-Fitzgerald's short story about a man who ages in reverse. It landed 13 nominations, including one for its lead actor, Brad Pitt.

Pitt's nomination opens up the intriguing possibility that both halves of "Brangelina" – the celebrity institution of his marriage to Angelina Jolie – might win the biggest acting prizes. Jolie was shortlisted in the best actress category for her performance in Changeling.

Pitt declared himself "especially happy for [director] David Fincher, for without him there would be no Ben Button." Jolie had gushing words for her director. "Working with Clint Eastwood was a reward in itself that will last me a lifetime," she said.

It wasn't all good news for Eastwood, though, who was ignored by best actor judges for his performance in Gran Torino, which has been a commercial and critical hit, and is rumoured to be his last major role.

Perhaps the biggest surprise overall was the half-hearted showing of The Dark Knight. Despite being the biggest box-office hit in years, the film secured just eight Oscar nods, mostly in technical categories such as cinematography, visual effects and editing. It failed to win its expected place on the best film shortlist.

Last year's US audience of 32 million for the Oscars represented the worst TV ratings in the event's 82-year history, and in an effort to jazz up the three-hour telecast, which is broadcast in the UK on Sky, the producers have hired Hugh Jackman to present the show.

In a further break with tradition, the full list of guest presenters is being kept secret until the big night, which organisers hope will add to the sense of intrigue about the event, which will be held at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

The final worry for organisers is a repeat of the industrial action that marred last year's awards season. The Screen Actors Guild has still not settled a long-running dispute with the studios, and although it is riven by internal disputes, some hard-liners this week suggested balloting for a boycott of the Oscar event.

Academy Awards Nominees

Best picture

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button



The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire

Best director

Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire

Stephen Daldry – The Reader

David Fincher – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Ron Howard – Frost/Nixon

Gus Van Sant – Milk

Best actor

Richard Jenkins – The Visitor

Frank Langella – Frost/Nixon

Sean Penn – Milk

Brad Pitt – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler

Best actress

Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married

Angelina Jolie – Changeling

Melissa Leo – Frozen River

Meryl Streep – Doubt

Kate Winslet – The Reader