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Backstage at the Oscars (a guest-blog)

Judging by the reactions in the Oscar press room, the new and improved telecast was falling flat. Broadcast on eight flat-screen televisions in the room packed with 300 journalists, the telecast only elicited a handful of laughs from the distracted crowd. Hugh Jackman got a few chuckles for his robotic "Reader" dance, as did Whoopi […]

Judging by the reactions in the Oscar press room, the new and improved telecast was falling flat.

Broadcast on eight flat-screen televisions in the room packed with 300 journalists, the telecast only elicited a handful of laughs from the distracted crowd. Hugh Jackman got a few chuckles for his robotic "Reader" dance, as did Whoopi Goldberg's "it's not easy being a nun" line.

And there was a loud, unanimous gasp when the cameras awkwardly cut to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

But there were some emotional moments that managed to turn heads away from  computer screens.

The room broke into applause when Danny Boyle was announced as the best director for "Slumdog Millionaire."

Many seemed disappointed when Mickey Rourke lost out for best actor.

Backstage, Heath Ledger's family drew respectful silence and immense interest.

Ledger's sister, Kate, said that when she saw her brother at home in Australia over a year ago at the Christmas before his death, she had an idea that this might be his breakthrough role.

"He had been sending me bits and pieces of the film … and I said to him, 'How are you feeling? You're gonna get a nomination from the Academy.' And he just looked at me and smiled – so he knew."

In another emotional moment, Dustin Lance Black, who took home the best original screenplay prize, said he hoped his message from the podium about gay rights would help young homosexuals "feel less alone."

"Harvey (Milk) gave me his story and it saved my life," he said, choking back tears. "My whole thing was to tell those kids out there that they'll be alright."

"Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle and producer Christian Colson spoke about the importance of the win for the independent film world.

"The Academy has given us a triumph for this kind of film," Boyle said. "It was wonderful to see Heath Ledger's work acknowleged in 'Dark Knight.' But like virtually everybody, Heath started small – we all do. Everybody begins in those small independent movies and we've gotta protect them … it's where you learn your craft."

But it was really Kate Winslet — who finally scored a prize after being nominated six times – who brought a resounding sense of triumph and old-school Oscar magic backstage.

Her emotions even spilled over into the press pool. Upon recognizing a journalist named Baz whom she has known since the age of 17, the actress ran over to give him a huge bear hug before answering his question.

Clutching her statuette, Winslet seemed genuinely in awe at accomplishing the feat she'd always dreamed of as a "little girl from Reading." Dismissing the British critics who slammed her expressive, sprawling acceptance speeches, she said didn't understand why her "own country can't be pleased for the successes of their own kind."

She even took a cheesy question from one member of the press and managed to make it poignant: "Do you believe there is a secret in dreaming?"

"Yes, I do," Winslet replied. "I think there's a secret in having some kind of belief in yourself. I feel like a very unlikely hero here right now. I was not the privileged kid who things like this could possibly happen to. It really is a dream coming true."