On a night tinged with international flair and homage to a bygone age of moviemaking, “The Artist” put the final strokes on its masterpiece of an awards season, winning the best picture Oscar and four other awards to end in a tie with “Hugo” at five.
“The Artist” won several other key trophies, including best director for Michael Hazanavicius, best actor for Jean Dujardin, costume design and score.
But any chance of the silent, black-and-white film sweeping its nommed categories was immediately wiped out when the first two awards of the evening went to “Hugo,” which led the pack in overall nominations with 11, followed by “The Artist’s” 10.
Though Hollywood loves movies about movies, “The Artist” was actually the first such film to win Oscar’s top honor. It was also the first French winner (only the second to be nominated) and, as noted many times, the first wordless movie to win since “Wings” in 1929 — the first year of the Oscar ceremony.
Harvey Weinstein was arguably the night’s most decorated individual: Eight trophies in all went to films that TWC had been tubthumping this awards season. It was another command performance after last year, when “The King’s Speech” took best picture, actor, director and original screenplay.
There was no shortage of moments highlighting the growing international nature of the Oscars: Not only was “The Artist” created by a group of Parisians, but several winners gave shout-outs to countries around the globe, most notably foreign-language Oscar “A Separation” writer Asghar Farhadi, who dedicated his award to the people of Iran and to “the people who respect all cultures and civilizations, despise hostility and resentment.”
Adapted screenplay winner Alexander Payne threw out a quick line of Greek; documentary short winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who produced “Saving Face,” dedicated her award to women in Pakistan working for change; winning art director Dante Ferretti (“Hugo”) name-dropped Italy; and Sandra Bullock introduced the foreign-language film in German, while recognizing how many viewers in China were watching.
Dujardin, ironically, kept it local — for about a beat, anyway.
“I love your country!” were among the first words from his mouth (the last, however, was an over-the-top “Merci beaucoup!”).
Even Meryl Streep’s win had a dusting of foreign influence, as the now three-time best actress winner was honored for her portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”
“Oh, come on!” Streep said in sincere disbelief as she took the stage, pausing for a moment to shake hands with fellow nominee Viola Davis (“The Help”). “When they called my name I had this feeling I was going to hear half of America going, ‘Oh, no.'”
Producers Brian Grazer and Don Mischer, along with host Billy Crystal, played it safe for the telecast they inherited when Brett Ratner’s controversial comments bounced him and Eddie Murphy. In a nod to the year of “The Artist,” Crystal’s opener began with a send-up of a silent, black-and-white thriller in which the nine-time emcee was being shocked into submitting to hosting duties by sinister villains.
But by and large, the jokes, setpieces, presenter dynamics and look of the stage echoed past shows; one new installment was video of movie stars talking wistfully about their first moviegoing experiences and film in general.
Other nods to bygone Hollywood appeared throughout, from the black-and-white interstitials with celebrities talking about their love of movies to a Christopher Guest short making fun of focus groups by depicting — again, in black and white — a hapless group reacting to “The Wizard of Oz” in the 1930s. Even Cirque du Soleil used monochromatic tones, period costumes and old movie clips in a acrobatic performance with a less-than-subtle pro-theatergoing message.
“Hugo” built its strength on the technical awards (echoing the five wins for Scorsese’s “The Aviator” at the 2005 show, when Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” took home top prizes for directing and best picture). Cinematography honors went to Robert Richardson, and Dante Ferretti won for art direction — a third Oscar for each artisan — while the pic went on to win best sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects.
At 82 years old, Christopher Plummer won his first Oscar for his supporting perf in “Beginners,” becoming the oldest winner in an acting category in Academy history. The win couldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone in the theater — nor did Plummer’s speech, packed with the grace and charm for which he’s become known this season.
“Where have you been all my life?” Plummer said, regarding the trophy just handed to him. “When I first emerged from my mother’s womb, I was already rehearsing my Oscar acceptance speech. Mercifully for you, it was so long ago that I’ve already forgotten it.”
Octavia Spencer, who was widely expected to win for supporting actress, took honors for her role as a maid with in “The Help.” Clearly overwhelmed by the standing ovation, she followed the advice that Grazer and Mischer dispensed at the nominees luncheon: don’t prepare a speech.
Though she struggled to find words, she thanked the cast and crew of her film, quickly adding, “I share this with everybody: Steven Spielberg for changing my life, Stacey Snider for changing my life. ‘Please wrap up.’ I’m wrapping up. I’m sorry, I’m freaking out.”
Sunday’s ceremony marked the culmination of a season that was notable mostly for its lack of consensus. Although “The Artist” earned several major precursor guild and critics awards and a Golden Globe for best comedy in January, other films like “The Descendants,” “Hugo” and “The Help” continued to maintain momentum throughout the season, leaving many pundits wondering if there might be room for a surprise Oscar winner.
Much of the past three months was dedicated to sifting for Oscar clues in awards shows great and small. The guild awards, considered reliable bellwethers, helped the case for “The Artist” when the film won at the Directors Guild and Producers Guild ceremonies. But the SAG ensemble award went to “The Help,” leaving many wondering what that might mean for the Oscars, considering the largest contingent of voters in the Academy is actors.
After the Jan. 15 Golden Globes ceremony, when “The Artist” and “The Descendants” earned comedy and drama kudos, it still wasn’t entirely clear which films (or even how many, for that matter) the Academy would nominate for best pic. In an effort to force clarity on the race, prognosticators were declaring that “Tree of Life,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” had been snubbed — and each film’s Oscars chances were dead. All three went on to earn nominations, most likely because campaigners ignored the din and continued their strong push until ballots were due.
In fact, by the time the nominations were finally revealed, most pundits had concluded with a dramatic yawn that a best picture Oscar was all but certain for the black-and-white silent movie.
Yet for a season that supposedly ended as soon as the nominations were announced, the feverish campaigning continued up until the ballots were due to PricewaterhouseCoopers on Feb. 21. And for good reason. Campaigner extraordinaire Harvey Weinstein has navigated enough awards season to know that fortunes can turn quickly, no matter how certain the outcome might seem.
The 84th annual Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2011 were presented at the Hollywood and Highland Center, and televised live on ABC in more than 225 countries worldwide.