SEAN PENN, KATE WINSLET, PENELOPE CRUZ, the late HEATH LEDGER and movie sensation SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE were the big winners at the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood.
Penn scooped the Best Actor prize for his role as assassinated gay official Harvey Milk in Milk; ahead of hot favourite Mickey Rourke.
The actor used his acceptance speech to criticise those who outlawed gay marriage in California and call for equal rights.
He said, "You commie, homo-loving sons of guns. I did not expect this. I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me.
"For those of you who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban on gay marriage to reflect on their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes.
"We've got to have equal rights for everyone."
He also found time to pay tribute to Barack Obama and Mickey Rourke, adding, "I'm very, very proud to live in a country that is willing to elect an elegant man president. Mickey Rourke rises again, and he is my brother."
Winslet was named Best Actress for her portrayal of a Nazi guard in The Reader; sixth time lucky for the star who had been a losing nominee five times before.
After catching her breath onstage, the British actress said, "I'd be lying if I said I hadn't made a version of this speech before. I was probably eight years old and staring into the bathroom mirror and this was a shampoo bottle. Well it's not a shampoo bottle now."
She went on to dedicate her award to her family and The Reader producers Sir Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, both of whom died in 2008.
A stunned Cruz took the Best Supporting Actress award for Vicky Cristina Barcelona and warned the crowd, "Has anybody ever fainted here? I might be the first one," before accepting her award with speeches in English and her native Spanish.
Ledger's Best Supporting Actor award for his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight brought Hollywood's A-list to their feet, as his father, mother and sister took to the stage to collect the statuette on his behalf and pay him a touching tribute.
But the night was dominated by British movie Slumdog Millionaire, which scooped eight of the ten awards it was nominated for, including Best Picture and Best Director for filmmaker Danny Boyle, who bounded onstage and impersonated Winnie the Pooh character Tigger before accepting his award.
Australian actor Hugh Jackman was an impressive first-time Oscars host and entertainted guests at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre with a string of song and dance numbers, including duets with Beyonce Knowles and Anne Hathaway.
The full list of winners is as follows:
Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role - Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen - Dustin Lance Black (Milk)
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published - Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Animated Feature Film - Wall-E
Best Animated Short Film - La Maison en Petit Cubes
Achievement in Art Direction - Donald Graham Burt and Victor J. Zolfo (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Achievement in Costume Design - Michael O'Connor (The Duchess)
Achievement in Makeup - Greg Cannom (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Achievement in Cinematography - Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Live Action Short Film - Jochen Alexander Freydank Spielzeugland (Toyland)
Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role - Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Best Documentary Feature - James Marsh, Simon Chinn (Man on Wire)
Best Documentary Short Subject - Megan Mylan (Smile Pinki)
Achievement in Visual Effects - Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton, Craig Barron (Visual Effects)
Achievement in Sound editing - Richard King (The Dark Knight)
Achievement in Sound Mixing - Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke, Resul Pookutty (Slumdog Millionaire)
Achievement in Film Editing - Chris DICkens (Slumdog Millionaire)
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award - Jerry Lewis
Achievement In Music Written For Motion Pictures (Original Score) - A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire)
Achievement In Music Written For Motion Pictures (Original Song) - A.R. Rahman, Gulzar for Jai Ho (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Foreign Language Film - Departures (Japan)
Achievement in Directing - Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role - Kate Winslet (The Reader)
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role - Sean Penn (Milk)
Best Picture - Slumdog Millionaire.