Silent movie “The Artist” crowned its spectacular awards season success by winning five Oscars including the coveted Best Picture prize at the 84th Academy Awards early Monday.
The French-directed black-and-white movie earned Oscars for best director for Michel Hazanavicius and best actor for Jean Dujardin, who played a silent movie era star whose career was torpedoed by the arrival of the “talkies.”
Martin Scorsese’s 3D adventure “Hugo” -- which had the most nominations, with 11 compared to 10 for “The Artist” also ended the evening with five prizes, but all of them came in technical categories, according to AFP.
Meryl Streep won best actress for her powerful turn in “The Iron Lady.” It was the third Oscar for the 62-year-old Streep and her first in three decades, underscoring her status as the pre-eminent actress of her generation.
“I love your country,” Dujardin told the audience as he accepted his Oscar, the first for a Frenchman in an acting category.
Dujardin plays George Valentin, a silent-film superstar fallen on hard times as the sound era takes over, according to The Associated Press. If George Valentin could speak, Dujardin said, “he’d say ... ‘Merci beaucoup, formidable!’”
Octavia Spencer took home the prize for best supporting actress for her role as a black maid in the civil rights drama “The Help,” receiving a standing ovation for her powerhouse performance.
Veteran Canadian actor Christopher Plummer crowned a six-decade acting career with a long-overdue Oscar, a best supporting actor trophy for his role in “Beginners” as an ailing widower who embraces his homosexuality.
“You’re only two years older than me, darling,” Plummer said, addressing his Oscar statue in this 84th year of the awards. “Where have you been all my life? I have a confession to make. When I first emerged from my mother’s womb, I was already rehearsing my Oscar speech.”
Hollywood’s biggest and most glittering night had long been expected to be a battle between “Hugo” and “The Artist,” two odes to film-making.
Other winners included the Johnny-Depp voiced “Rango,” which won the best animated feature prize, and Woody Allen, who was honored for best original screenplay for “Midnight in Paris.”
In the foreign language category, Iran’s “A Separation” beat films from Belgium, Canada, Israel and Poland as expected.
Its director Asghar Farhadi dedicated the award to Iranians “who despise hostility and resentment,” and referred to current tension between Tehran and the West over the Islamic republic's suspect nuclear program.
Scorsese was not the only legendary director in the mix -- Allen was in the running for best picture honors for his comeback hit “Midnight in Paris,” and Steven Spielberg gunned for the top prize with “War Horse.”
Buddies George Clooney and Brad Pitt both lost out to Dujardin, who had already won a slew of awards for his turn as suave George Valentin.
Clooney had downplayed his hopes of winning best actor before the show, saying on the red carpet: “I have a feeling in the best actor race you're going to hear someone speaking French.”
Streep, who was honored for her powerful portrayal of former British premier Margaret Thatcher, said “Oh, come on!” as she was given a standing ovation by the star-studded Hollywood audience.
She said that when her name was called out, “I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ‘Oh no ... her, again.’ But whatever!”
The win is Streep’s first Oscar in 29 years, since she won best actress for “Sophie's Choice.” She had lost 13 times in a row since then. Streep also has a supporting-actress Oscar for 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer,” according to AP.
“I really understand I’ll never be up here again. I really want to think all my colleagues, my friends. I look out here and I see my life before my eyes, my old friends, my new friends. Really, this is such a great honor but the think that counts the most with me is the friendship and the love and the sheer job we've shared making moves together.”
Streep is only the fifth performer to receive three Oscars. Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman and Walter Brennan all earned three, while Katharine Hepburn won four.
The show was presented by a galaxy of stars, including last year’s best actress and actor Natalie Portman and Colin Firth, Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie.
Highlights included a breathtaking cinema-themed performance by Canadian dance troupe Cirque du Soleil, including rapid-fire acrobatics and tumbling across the stage and ceiling of the auditorium.
“Wow,” said veteran host Billy Crystal, presenting the show for the ninth time. “I pulled a hamstring just watching that.”
The spectacle had begun even before the curtain went up, with the usual procession of glamour gowns on the red carpet leading into the Oscars, the climax of Hollywood’s annual awards season.
British comic Sacha Baron Cohen also pulled a colorful stunt, coming dressed as the star of his latest movie, “The Dictator” -- and pouring the faux ashes of late North Korean leader Jim Kong-Il onto the red carpet.