The 81st Academy Awards ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), honored the best films of 2008 and took place on February 22, 2009, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles beginning at 5:30 p.m. PST / 8:30 p.m. EST. During the ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented Academy Awards (commonly referred to as Oscars) in 24 categories. The ceremony was televised in the United States by ABC, and produced by Bill Condon and Laurence Mark. Actor Hugh Jackman hosted the show for the first time. Two weeks earlier in a ceremony at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California held on February 7, the Academy Awards for Technical Achievement were presented by host Jessica Biel.
Slumdog Millionaire won eight awards, the most of the evening, including Best Picture and Best Director for Danny Boyle. Other winners were The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with three awards, The Dark Knight and Milk with two awards, and Departures, The Duchess, La Maison en Petits Cubes, Man on Wire, The Reader, Smile Pinki, Toyland, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and WALL-E with one. The telecast garnered almost 37 million viewers in the United States.
The nominees for the 81st Academy Awards were announced on January 22, 2009, at 5:38 a.m. PST (13:38 UTC) at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California, by Sid Ganis, president of the Academy, and the actor Forest Whitaker. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button received the most nominations with thirteen (the ninth film to garner that many nominations); Slumdog Millionaire came in second with ten.
The winners were announced during the awards ceremony on February 22, 2009. Slumdog Millionaire was the eleventh film to win Best Picture without any acting nominations. Sean Penn became the ninth person to win Best Lead Actor twice. Best Supporting Actor winner Heath Ledger became the second performer to win a posthumous acting Oscar. The first actor to receive this distinction was Peter Finch who posthumously won Best Actor for Network two months after his death in January 1977. With its six nominations, Best Animated Feature Film winner WALL-E tied with 1991's Beauty and the Beast as the most nominated animated film in Academy Awards history.
Winners are listed first, highlighted in boldface'..Jerry Lewis
The following individuals presented awards or performed musical numbers.
Due to the declining viewership of the recent Academy Awards ceremonies, AMPAS had contracted an entirely new production team in an attempt to revive interest surrounding both the awards and festivities. In September 2008, the Academy selected producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark to co-produce the telecast. Nearly three months later, actor Hugh Jackman, who had previously emceed three consecutive Tony Awards ceremonies between 2003 and 2005, was chosen as host of the 2009 gala. Jackman expressed his anticipation of the awards in the few days preceding, and had commented that he was thrilled with preparations for the ceremony.
Notable changes were introduced in the production of the telecast. In an attempt to build suspense and curiosity leading up to the awards, Condon and Mark announced that they would not reveal any of the presenters or performers who would participate in the Oscarcast. Another unique feature of the ceremony was that the orchestra performed onstage instead of being relegated to a pit. In a break from previous presentations, five previous Oscar-winning performers presented each of the acting categories as opposed to only one or two. In addition, the Academy announced that for the first time since Oscar began broadcasting on television, film studios would be able to televise advertisements promoting their upcoming films. Furthermore, a montage of upcoming 2009 films was shown over the ceremony's closing credits.
Several other people participated in the production of the ceremony. Chris Harrison hosted "Road to the Oscars", a weekly behind-the-scenes video blog on the Oscar ceremony website. David Rockwell designed a new set and stage design for the ceremony. Film historian and author Robert Osborne greeted guests entering the festivities at the Hollywood and Highland Center. Film director Judd Apatow filmed a comedy montage which featured Seth Rogen and James Franco reprising their roles from Pineapple Express. Director Baz Luhrmann produced a song and dance number saluting movie musicals.
Peter Gabriel, who was originally scheduled to perform his nominated song "Down to Earth" from WALL-E during the live broadcast, declined to perform after learning that he would be allowed to sing only 65 seconds of the song during the ceremony's Best Original Song nominee performances. Gabriel still attended the ceremony but singer John Legend, backed by the Soweto Gospel Choir, performed the song in place of Gabriel.
Continuing a trend in recent years, the field of major nominees favored independent, low-budget films over blockbusters. However, one of the nominees for Best Picture had grossed over $100 million before the nominations were announced (compared with none from the previous year). The combined gross of the five Best Picture nominees when the Oscars were announced was $188 million with an average gross of $37.7 million per film.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was the highest earner among the Best Picture nominees with $104.4 million in domestic box office receipts. The film was followed by Slumdog Millionaire ($44.7 million), Milk ($20.7 million), Frost/Nixon ($8.8 million), and finally The Reader ($8.3 million). Among the rest of the top 50 releases of 2008 in U.S. box office before the nominations, 33 nominations went to nine films on the list. Only The Dark Knight (1st), WALL-E (5th), Kung Fu Panda (6th), Bolt (19th), Tropic Thunder (20th), and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (21st) were nominated for directing, acting, screenwriting, Best Picture or Animated Feature. The other top-50 box office hits that earned nominations were Iron Man (2nd), Wanted (16th), and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (41st).
Shortly after the voting polls were closed for the awards, a purported list of winners was posted online. The list, which bore a purported signature from Academy president Sid Ganis, stated that Mickey Rourke won for Best Actor, Kate Winslet won for Best Actress, Marisa Tomei won for Best Supporting Actress, Heath Ledger won for Best Supporting Actor, and Slumdog Millionaire won for Best Picture. AMPAS spokeswoman Leslie Unger later revealed that the list was "a complete fraud", and that PricewaterhouseCoopers had just begun to count the ballots.
The show received a mixed reception from media publications. Some media outlets received the broadcast more positively. Television critic Robert Bianco of USA Today gave Jackman an average review but extolled producers Condon and Mark saying that the broadcast felt "faster and more intimate without sacrificing Hollywood glamour." Vanity Fair columnist Julian Sancton gave high marks for Jackman's hosting performance stating "After several years of glamour-deflating wisecracks from blasé hosts like Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, and Steve Martin, the new producers hired an M.C. who was willing to break a sweat." Film critic Roger Ebert lauded Jackman's performance noting that he "would be a charmer as host, and he was." Of the show itself, Ebert added, "It was the best Oscar show I've ever seen, and I've seen plenty."
Other media outlets were more critical of the show. Los Angeles Times columnist Mary McNamara lamented that host Jackman surely "obliterated all memory of the Uma-Oprah thing", in reference to the negative reception David Letterman received when hosting the 67th ceremony held in 1995. Time television critic James Poniewozik wrote that Jackman was "charming and game and I bet he absolutely killed in the room. But he didn’t really project beyond the room, nor did he much seem to be trying to." He also noted that while there were some entertaining moments, "the broadcast overall had problems of pacing." Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune remarked, "The whole thing was driven by a manic desire to bring some old-school glamor to the proceedings." She added that the long introductions praising the acting nominees slowed down the proceedings.
The American telecast on ABC drew in an average of 36.94 million people over its length, which was a 13% increase from the record lows of the previous year's ceremony. An estimated, 68.48 million total viewers watched all or part of the awards. The show also drew higher Nielsen ratings compared to the previous ceremony, with 20.88% of households watching over a 32.44 share. In addition, the program scored a 12.43 rating over a 30.61 share among the 18–49 demographic, which was a 13 percent increase.
In July 2009, the ceremony presentation received ten nominations at the 61st Primetime Emmys. Two months later, the ceremony won four awards including Outstanding Choreography (Rob Ashford), Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics (Hugh Jackman Opening Number: William Ross, John Kimbrough, Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, Ben Schwartz), Outstanding Short Form Picture Editing, (Best Motion Picture Montage: Kyle Cooper, Hal Honigsberg), and Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Variety Or Music Series Or Special.
The annual In Memoriam tribute was presented by actress Queen Latifah. She performed the song "I'll Be Seeing You" during the segment.