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Documentary: James Marsh (director) and Simon Chinn (producer), 'Man on Wire'

February 23, 2009

James Marsh (director) and Simon Chinn (producer)

"Man on Wire"

"Man on Wire," part thriller, part existential mood piece, told the story of how French acrobat Philippe Petit walked on a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Director Marsh called Petit to the stage while accepting the award, and Petit duly sprinted up. After remarks by Marsh and producer Chinn, Petit announced "the shortest speech in Oscar history -- yes!" Continuing, he added, "I always break the rules, I break my own rules."

Petit then pulled a coin from his pocket, which he said had been given to him by fellow documentary nominee Werner Herzog. "You were right, we won," Petit noted, before making it seemingly disappear from his palm while adding, "so now it's time to thank the academy for believing in magic."

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Original score

A.R. Rahman

"Slumdog Millionaire"

Rahman, composer of countless Bollywood scores, won for his transporting soundscape in "Slumdog Millionaire," Danny Boyle's crowd-pleaser that is part potboiler, part fairy tale.

Rahman started writing music for Indian TV ads in the early '90s, eventually switching to film and composing dozens of soundtracks a year. In 2002, Andrew Lloyd Webber commissioned him to write the music for the play "Bombay Dreams," which ran in London's West End. Rahman also collaborated with London musician M.I.A. on the film's acclaimed soundtrack.

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Original song

A.R. Rahman (music) and Gulzar (lyrics)

"Jai Ho"

"Jai Ho" was one of two songs composed by Rahman that was nominated for original song from "Slumdog Millionaire." It beat out the other song, "O Saya," which was punctuated with stylish vocals from M.I.A., as well as Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman's "Down to Earth" from "Wall-E."

"Jai Ho" was the more accessible of the two "Slumdog" songs, an uplifting theme also threaded with tension. With lyrics by Sampooran Singh Gulzar, who often goes by the singular name Gulzar, "Jai Ho" was one of eight awards for "Slumdog Millionaire" and Rahman's second Oscar of the night.

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Foreign-language film

"Departures"

Japan

The little-seen Japanese film "Departures," directed by Yojiro Takita, tells the story of a failed cellist (Masahiro Motoki) who finds a new lease on life when he accepts a job in the mortuary business.

Taking the stage with a number of collaborators, Takita said: "I am very, very happy. I am here because of films. This is a new departure for me." On his way off, he added, "We will be back, I hope."

Two other nominees, "The Class" from France and "Waltz With Bashir" from Israel, were among the most lauded films of the year after their respective premieres at the Cannes Film Festival last May.

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Documentary short subject

Megan Mylan

"Smile Pinki"

"Smile Pinki" tells the story of children in India born with cleft palates who receive free plastic surgery. Accepting the award, filmmaker Mylan said, "Oh, to be in a room with all this talent -- lucky me. And to tell stories for a living -- lucky me."

Mylan noted "documentary, like all filmmaking, is a complete team sport" before thanking her editor, cinematographer and producers. She concluded by singling out "our heroine, Pinki Kumari [Sonkar],thank you, thank you, thank you, for letting me tell your inspiring story. What a gift."

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Costume design

Michael O'Connor

"The Duchess"

The costume design nominations spanned many locations and time periods, including San Francisco in the '70s, 18th century England, the Jazz Age in New Orleans, suburban America in the '50s and Australia before World War II. But it was the ruffled, brocaded dresses and sky-high feathery hats of "The Duchess" that scored Englishman O'Connor his first Academy Award.

Keira Knightley, who had to have her trailer enlarged to house her 30 elaborate costumes, played Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, the 18th century "it" girl known as the Empress of Fashion. The film follows the rise and sad stumble of the style icon, who suffers the consequences of a loveless marriage in affluent society.

"The character is young and innocent in the beginning, but her confidence builds," O'Connor told The Times in a recent interview. "We showed that through her clothes and hats."

Spectacular pieces include a traditional Gainsborough hat in black velvet and vintage ribbons that cost $150 a meter, which couldn't be stored in a regular hatbox. At the end of filming, Knightley took the hat home.

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Cinematography

Anthony Dod Mantle

"Slumdog Millionaire"

Arguably among the true mad wizards of modern world cinema, Mantle mixed conventional film cameras with small and light digital technology for "Slumdog Millionaire," creating an essential ingredient to the film's vibrantly colorful look and breakneck momentum. Hurtling through the street-level slums of Mumbai, India, to the high-rise construction sites that tower over the city, his work captured something elemental about the disorienting velocity of the city itself.

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