Los Angeles: Academy Awards voters have spoken up for 'The Artist,' the first silent film to triumph at Hollywood's highest honors since the original Oscar ceremony 83 years ago.
The black-and-white comic melodrama took four prizes on Monday, including best picture, actor for Jean Dujardin and director for Michel Hazanavicius. Not since the World War I saga "Wings" was named outstanding picture at the first Oscars in 1929 had a silent film earned the top prize.
The other top Oscars went to Meryl Streep as best actress for 'The Iron Lady,' Octavia Spencer as supporting actress for 'The Help' and Christopher Plummer as supporting actor for 'Beginners.'
'The Help' actress Octavia Spencer and 'Beginners' veteran Christopher Plummer won the first two major acting Oscars with Plummer making history as the oldest Academy Award winner ever at 82.
Director Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo,' which tells the story of a boy lost in a train station and also serves as an ode to the early days of filmmaking, came into the night with 11 nominations and picked up five early wins for cinematography, art direction, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects.
Silent movie romance 'The Artist' was close behind with 10 nominations and nabbed two early Oscars for costume design and musical score, while 'The Iron Lady,' which starred Meryl Streep as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher won for makeup.
But it was Plummer and Spencer who had the audience of A-list stars including George Clooney, Michelle Williams, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt standing on their feet and cheering.
Plummer, who starred in 'The Sound of Music,' won his first ever Oscar for his portrayal of an elderly gay man who comes out to his family in 'Beginners.
"You're only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all of my life," he said, looking at the golden Oscar, which is given out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and is in its 84th year.
Spencer, a relative newcomer in contrast to Plummer, had to hold back tears as she accepted her trophy for her portrayal of a black, southern made in civil rights drama 'The Help.'
"Thank you Academy for putting me with the hottest guy in the room," she said holding her Oscar in her hand. She then went on to talk about her family in Alabama and could not hold back her tears as she joyously accepted her trophy.
In other major wins, the foreign language film award went to Iranian divorce drama 'A Separation.'
"I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment," said its director Ashgar Farhadi.
'Rango' claimed best animated film, and best documentary saw the night's first surprise victory for 'Undefeated,' a film about the players on a football team in a poor neighborhood who struggle to make their lives better. 'Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory' had been widely picked to win by pundits.
Comedian Billy Crystal, who returned to emcee the show for the ninth time, had the crowd laughing loudly with an opening video in which he was edited into the year's top movies.
He was kissed by George Clooney on the lips in a scene out of 'The Descendants' and even ate a tainted pie from 'The Help.' He opened with a monologue in which he joked: "there's nothing like watching a bunch of millionaires present each other with golden statues" and sang a song about the movies that drew a loud round of applause.
Hollywood's biggest fashion parade on the Oscar red carpet heated up with Michelle Williams in a stunning red dress from Louis Vuitton, 'The Help' star Jessica Chastain in a dazzling Alexander McQueen black and gold embroidered gown, while Gwyneth Paltrow chose Tom Ford and white, a popular color.
Later in the night that the action truly begins with awards for best film, performances, directing and writing.
This year, 'The Artist,' a tale of old Hollywood that sees a fading star find redemption through the love of a woman just as silent movies are being taken over by talkies, is widely picked to take home best film by most industry pundits.
While it faces keen competition from civil rights drama 'The Help,' "The Artist" has come out on top in most award shows this year. Still, pundits point out that "The Help" did win best ensemble cast from the Screen Actors Guild, and actors make up the biggest group of Oscar voters.
The third movie that has had Hollywood buzzing this season is family drama "The Descendants," starring George Clooney as a man trying to keep his family together after his cheating wife is hospitalized in a coma. But 'Descendants' has failed to spark Oscar voters, and its key win is seen as adapted screenplay.
The category of best actress features a too-close-to-call race between Viola Davis playing a maid in 'The Help' and Meryl Streep in 'The Iron Lady.' Tom O'Neil of awards website Goldderby.com calls that race "neck and neck."
The best actor category sees American Clooney 'Descendants' face Frenchman Jean Dujardin, star of 'The Artist.' For a long time, Clooney seemed to have the upper hand, but Dujardin has won most every time the two have been pitted against each other.
The race for director is widely tipped to go to 'The Artist' maker Michel Hazanavicius, but could see a surprise by 'Hugo' and Scorsese, Woody Allen with 'Midnight in Paris' or Alexander Payne and 'The Descendants.'