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 on Sunday.
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.”
“I love your country,” Dujardin told the Hollywood audience as he accepted his Oscar, the first for a French actor, for his role as silent movie star George Valentin.
After thanking the film’s cast and crew — adding to “my wife, I love you” — he broke into French, using an expletive and then saying, “Great! Thank you very much!”
Martin Scorsese’s 3D adventure Hugo — which had the most nominations, with 11 compared with 10 for The Artist — also ended the evening with five prizes, but all of them came in technical categories.
Meryl Streep won best actress for her powerful turn as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, earning a standing ovation from the A-list Hollywood audience.
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.
“When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going: ‘Oh no. Come on ... Her, again?’ You know. But, whatever!” she said, rolling her eyes.
Octavia Spencer took home the prize for best supporting actress for her role as a black American 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.
Kissing his coveted golden statuette, he joked: “You’re only two years older than me, darling — where have you been all my life?” adding that he had been rehearsing his Oscar acceptance speech since he was born.
Hollywood’s biggest and most glittering night had long been expected to be a battle between Hugo and The Artist, two odes to filmmaking.
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 Iran’s suspect nuclear program.
Scorsese was not the only legendary director in the mix — Allen was in the running for best picture honors for Midnight in Paris and Steven Spielberg gunned for the top prize with War Horse.
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 stars in glittering gowns on the red carpet leading into the Oscars, the climax of Hollywood’s annual awards season.