Oscar voters endorsed a nostalgic look back to the early days of the movie business on Sunday night, showering "The Artist" with five awards including Best Picture.
After starting slow and lagging behind "Hugo," the black-and-white silent film came roaring back at the 84th Academy Awards, winning a Best Director Oscar for Michel Hazanavicius and a Best Actor statue for Jean Dujardin in addition to the night's top prize.
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Its main rival "Hugo," which like "The Artist" was deeply steeped in film history, also won five awards. But the 3D film was shut out of the major categories and instead had to settle for statues for cinematography, art direction, and other technical achievements.
It was an evening that was short on surprises and long on veteran talent. Screen legends Meryl Streep and Christopher Plummer picked up statues for their work, while Billy Crystal returned to host his ninth Academy Awards telecast.
Despite the fondness for the tried and true, the largely unknown Dujardin held off challenges from Hollywood stars such as George Clooney ("The Descendants") and Brad Pitt ("Moneyball") to win the honor for his performance as a silent film star struggling with the advent of sound.
"I love your country," the French-born Dujardin said. He went on to thank silent film star Douglas Fairbanks, saying the actor's joie de vivre inspired his performance.
Perhaps the evening's sole unexpected winner was Streep, who many had predicted would be left sitting in the audience while Viola Davis accepted an award for her work in "The Help."
However, the shape-shifting actress picked up her first Academy Award in nearly three decades on Sunday for her performance as doggedly determined British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”
"This is such a great honor but the thing that counts the most to me is the love and the joy…we have shared making movies together," Streep said.
It was her third Oscar, having previously received awards for "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979) and "Sophie's Choice" (1982).
"The Artist" director Hazanavicius thanked the film's cast, including its canine star Uggie.
He also paid tribute to the film itself, saying, "It's life is full of grace and it brings to us joy and happiness."
"Beginners" star Plummer captured a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as a gay man coming out of the closet late in life.
The 82-year old Plummer became the oldest person ever to win an acting Oscar.
“When I first emerged from my mother’s womb I was already rehearsing my Oscar acceptance speech, but it was so long ago…mercifully I forgot it,” Plummer quipped.
Plummer was the odds-on favorite entering Sunday's contest, as was Octavia Spencer, who won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of a maid in the segregated south in "The Help."
The visibly emotional actress thanked her director Tate Taylor and her co-stars.
"I share this with everybody," Spencer said. "Thank you, world."
Continuing the tradition of honoring veteran talent, Woody Allen won his first Oscar since 1986's "Hannah and Her Sisters" for his screenplay for the romantic comedy "Midnight in Paris." Like "The Artist" and "Hugo," that film also looked back to an earlier time and place, although Allen's film was concerned with Lost Generation writers, not cinema itself.
True to form, the perennial Oscar no-show was not on hand to pick up his award.
Though some had expected George Clooney to win his first Best Actor statue for his work in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants," the tragi-comedy won its sole Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the director, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
Sending up the old West did the trick for "Rango," which won a Best Animated Feature award for Gore Verbinski. The director applauded the star of the animated film and his previous collaborator on "The Pirates of the Caribbean" films.
"I want to thank the real-world chameleon Johnny Depp," Verbinski said.
In a night free of politics, the only nod to real world events came as "A Separation" captured Best Foreign Language Film.
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With a nod to the tensions between his country and the Western world, the Iranian film's director Asghar Farhadi thanked his fellow countrymen, noting that many were "…people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment."
In the Best Original Song category, Bret McKenzie won an Oscar for "Man or Muppet" from "The Muppets."
"I was genuinely starstruck when I met Kermit the Frog, but once you get to know him, he's a regular frog," McKenzie joked.
In addition to its awards for acting, directing and picture, "The Artist" was honored for its 1920s costumes and for Ludovic Bource's score, the later earned despite a controversy involving the composer's mimicry of Bernard Herrmann's work on "Vertigo."
The broadcast kicked off Sunday night with a film parody featuring Billy Crystal and many of the Best Picture nominees. He then took the stage at the theater formerly known as the Kodak and revived his typical musical melody featuring the top films vying for honors.
As he had in eight previous hosting stints, Crystal gently ribbed Hollywood egos and the event's pomposity, without really going for the jugular.
"Nothing can take the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues," Crystal said.
With a nod to the Kodak Theater's name change and the sponsoring company's recent bankruptcy, Crystal quipped, "We’re here at the beautiful Chapter 11 theater.”
It marked the Oscar staple's first hosting gig since 2004.