By Rene Rodriguez, McClatchy Newspapers –
MIAMI — “The Artist,” the homage to silent-era Hollywood that had swept the year-end prize circuit on the road leading to the 84th Academy Awards, cemented its legendary status Sunday night by winning five Oscars, including Best Picture.
Financed primarily by French producers but filmed in Los Angeles with a largely American cast and crew, the movie became the first (almost) silent film since 1927’s “Wings” to win the big prize.
“I love your country!” said the exuberant Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin, who had been largely unknown in the U.S. until last year. The French-born Dujardin, who only learned to speak English in November, beat out Hollywood heavyweights Brad Pitt and George Clooney for the award, even though the role of a fallen movie star required him to utter just two words.
Michel Hazanavicius, a French filmmaker previously best known for making spoof comedies, edged out Hollywood stalwarts such as Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick to win Best Director for “The Artist.”
“I have an Oscar!” he said, thanking his cast, the “crazy people” who financed the movie and Uggie the Dog, the Jack Russell who steals the film. “I am the happiest director in the world right now. Sometimes life is wonderful, and today is one of these days.”
Meryl Streep won her third Oscar — her first since 1982 — for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”
“When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going ‘Oh, no. Why her? Again?’ But whatever!” said Streep, who holds the record for most Oscar nominations ever (17). The film also won Best Make Up.
First-time nominee Octavia Spencer earned the night’s first standing ovation when she won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of an outspoken maid in “The Help.” “I have to thank my families: My family in Alabama, the state of Alabama and my L.A. family,” Spencer said as she fought but failed to hold back tears.
Eighty-two-year-old Christopher Plummer became the oldest actor ever to win an Academy Award with his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “Beginners,” in which he played an elderly man who came out of the closet.
“You’re only two years older than me, darling!” Plummer said to the Oscar he was clutching. “Where have you been all my life?”
“A Separation” became the first Iranian movie to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Director Asghar Fahardi dedicated the award to the “many Iranians all over the world” and expressed gratitude that his movie has helped bring international attention to a “culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.”
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rush won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “The Descendants,” their adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemming’s novel about a man who discovers his comatose wife was having an affair.
“My mother is here with me from Omaha,” said Payne, who previously won an Oscar for “Sideways” in 2004. “After watching the show a few years ago, she made me promise that if I ever won another Oscar I had to dedicate it to her just like Javier Bardem did with his mother.
“So Mom, this one’s for you.”
Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” won Best Original Screenplay, earning the venerable filmmaker his fourth Oscar. As usual, Allen did not attend the ceremony.
Director Gore Verbinski accepted the Best Animated Feature Oscar for the hit “Rango,” which incorporated homages to spaghetti westerns and other classic genres.
“Someone asked me if this film was for kids,” he said. “I don’t know, but it was certainly created by a bunch of grown-ups acting like children.”
“Hugo,:” the 3-D fantasy that entered the night with the most nominations (11), won five Oscars in technical categories, including Best Cinematography and Visual Effects.
“Undefeated,” the story of an all-black underdog high school football team, won Best Documentary, beating out Win Wenders’ 3-D dance celebration “Pina” and “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” the final installment in a trilogy of films about a miscarriage of justice in Arkansas.
The visibly stunned duo of Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall accepted the Best Editing Oscar for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” one of the night’s biggest surprises.
“We weren’t expecting this,” said Baxter, who shared the award with Wall last year for “The Social Network.”
Billy Crystal, who returned to host the telecast for the ninth time, opened the show with a montage in which he appeared in scenes from several of 2011’s biggest films, then performed his trademark comic medley incorporating the titles of all the Best Picture nominees.
“You didn’t think I wasn’t going to do this, did you?” asked the 63 year-old actor, clearly relishing his first gig as Oscar emcee since 2004.
Unlike James Franco and Anne Hathaway, who co-hosted last year, Crystal seemed happy and at ease, keeping the show moving at a nice clip by Oscar telecast standards (the show clocked in at just over three hours).
“When I came out of ‘The Help,’ I wanted to hug the first black woman I saw. In Beverly Hills, that’s a 45-minute drive,” he joked.
Crystal was a familiar and comfortable presence onstage, and his humor was sharp but never edgy.
The same went for of the overall tone of this year’s batch of nominees, most of which basked comfortably in the past instead of pushing boundaries.