The movie industry showered love on itself Sunday night at the 84th annual Academy Awards, honoring two films about the early days of picture making with 10 of its 24 trophies: five for "The Artist," including best picture, and five for "Hugo."
Omaha director-screenwriter Alexander Payne won the adapted-screenplay trophy for "The Descendants," along with co-writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon.
"The Artist," a French movie about a silent-film star who fails to adapt to talkies, became the second silent movie ever to win best picture, 83 years after "Wings" won at the first Academy Awards in 1929.
Also the first completely black-and-white movie to win best picture since "The Apartment" in 1960, "The Artist" won best director, actor, score and costumes as well.
"Hugo," Martin Scorsese's movie about early filmmaking in Paris, jumped out to an early lead with its five awards in technical categories: cinematography, art direction, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects.
But it was all "The Artist" when the top awards came around at the show's climax. French director Michel Hazanavicius thanked the academy after winning best director, saying of his movie about early Hollywood history, "It's full of grace, it brings to us joy and happiness."
"I love your country," best-actor winner Jean Dujardin said in a thick French accent when he won best actor for playing "The Artist's" silent-film star.
It was Payne's second Oscar, coming seven years after he won the same award for "Sideways."
"The Descendants" earned five nominations, including best picture and director, but Payne and his co-writers were its only winners. Payne thanked his mother, Peggy, who was there with him from Omaha.
Meryl Streep scored perhaps the upset of the night, winning best actress for playing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady."
"When they called my name," she said, "I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, 'Oh no, not her. Again.' But whatever."
It was her third Oscar win after 17 nominations, and her first since 1982, when she won for "Sophie's Choice." Many had expected Viola Davis, who won the Screen Actors Guild trophy for best actress, to win again for "The Help."
The original screenplay Oscar went to Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris." It was his third win after a record 15 writing nominations. He was not there to receive it.
Billy Crystal, back to host the Oscars for his ninth time, stuck to tried and true routines that had worked for him in the past: inserting himself into film clips from the year's top movies (George Clooney kissed him in the snippet from "The Descendants"), reading the minds of nominees in the audience (he emitted a long, low growl when Omaha native Nick Nolte's face appeared) and singing a medley of tunes themed to the best-picture nominees.
His one-liners definitely topped last year's hosts, Anne Hathaway and James Franco, though that wasn't setting the bar very high.
"We're here in the beautiful Chapter 11 Theater," he quipped, referencing the fact that Kodak, which had naming rights on the theater, is under bankruptcy protection. At another point he referred to it as "Your Name Here Theater."
The show offered little innovation beyond having Cirque du Soleil do a high-flying acrobatic routine to the theme of going to the movies. Movie clips, sometimes silly banter by presenters and a little interacting with the star-studded audience were staples seen on the award show for years.
The night's memorable moments, as usual, were provided by the winners.
Supporting-actress winner Octavia Spencer dissolved in tears at the standing ovation that greeted her.
"I'm freaking out, thank you world, oh my God," she said, acknowledging her family in Alabama after winning for playing a Mississippi housemaid in "The Help."
Christopher Plummer, the oldest winner of an acting Academy Award ever at 82, stared at his supporting-actor Oscar and quipped, "You're only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?"
He won for "Beginners," playing a father who, late in life, tells his son he's gay. Nolte, an Omaha native, was nominated in the same category for "Warrior."
The annual "In Memoriam" segment, in which Hollywood salutes movie makers who have died over the past year, was particularly moving, accompanied by Esperanza Spalding singing "What a Wonderful World."
The night's most risque moment? Probably the "Bridesmaids" cast comparing attributes of short films to a defining component of the male anatomy.
Most recipients kept speeches mercifully concise, though the documentary feature winner not only was bleeped but had his microphone cut off when he went on too long. As for the show, it finished just a few minutes past three hours, relatively short for a marathon show that once stretched past four hours and 20 minutes.
"The Artist," with 11 nominations, and "Hugo," with 10, had been the top-nominated movies this year. "War Horse" and "Moneyball," with six nominations each, came away with no awards.
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