Rags-to-riches drama "Slumdog Millionaire" has swept the board at the 81st Academy Awards, winning eight Oscars including best picture on a night of high-voltage Hollywood glamor.
The feel-good film about a Mumbai tea boy who rises from poverty and enters a television quiz show to win millions and find the love of his life, won eight of the nine categories in which it was nominated at the Kodak Theater.
The acting honors saw Sean Penn triumph for his portrayal of murdered gay politician Harvey Milk in the biopic "Milk" while Britain's Kate Winslet ended her Oscars losing streak for her performance in Holocaust drama "The Reader."
There was a tear-jerking posthumous Oscar for late Australian actor Heath Ledger, a moment of unforgettable poignancy that reduced the star-studded audience to hushed silence.
But it was the triumph of "Slumdog Millionaire" that stole the show, with more than a dozen members of the Bollywood-inspired movie's cast and crew crowding the stage to receive best picture from Steven Spielberg.
"We had passion and we had belief and if you have those two things, truly, anything is possible," said producer Christian Colson.
The "Slumdog" Oscar-haul included best director honors for British film-maker Danny Boyle and a brace of Academy Awards for Indian composer A.R. Rahman, who won for best song and original score.
It was a fairytale night for "Slumdog", which had been nearly released directly to video last year after losing its US distributor, a move which would have ruled it out of Oscars contention.
Boyle said he had wanted as many of the "Slumdog" team as possible to attend Sunday's ceremony. "It's lovely to have brought them together, really. And it makes tonight deeply special for us, because we tried to make the film as a family unit, everybody," Boyle said.
The best picture award brought the curtain down on a revamped Oscars ceremony that had earlier seen Penn and Winslet carve up the top acting honors.
"Thank you, you commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns. I did not expect this," joked Penn after collecting the second best actor Oscar of his career.
Penn used his acceptance speech to urge opponents of same-sex marriage -- recently banned in California -- to rethink their positions.
"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," he said.
"We've got to have equal rights for everyone."
Winslet, 33, meanwhile won her first Oscar after five previous defeats, for her portrayal of a former Nazi death camp guard who starts a love affair with a teenage boy in post-war Germany and is later put on trial for war crimes.
Winslet admitted she had been dreaming of Oscars gold for a very long time.
"I'd be lying if I haven't made a version of this speech before. I think I was probably eight years old and staring into the bathroom mirror and this would have been a shampoo bottle," she told the audience.
"It's not a shampoo bottle now," Winslet quipped. "I feel very fortunate to have made it all the way from there to here and I'd like to thank some of the people along the way who had faith in me."
Earlier Heath Ledger's family took to the stage to collect the tragic star's best supporting actor honor for his portrayal of Batman villain the Joker in "The Dark Knight."
"Heath, we both knew what you had created in the Joker was extraordinarily special, and had even talked about being here on this very day," Ledger's sister Kate said. "We really wish you were, but we proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful daughter Matilda. Thank you," she added.
Spanish star Penelope Cruz won the best supporting actress prize for her part in the steamy Woody Allen comedy "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."
"Has anybody ever fainted here? Because I might be the first one," an overwhelmed Cruz said as she accepted her award.
Period romance "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which began the night with 13 nominations, ended the night with only three Oscars in the technical categories of art direction, makeup and visual effects.
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.
It was one of several innovations made by Oscars show producers that breathed new life into the previously tried and trusted formula which had led to record low television ratings last year.
In the most noticeable break with the past, the show called on giants of the acting world to introduce each individual nominee in the acting categories, a ploy that heightened the anticipation inside the theater.
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