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'The Artist' takes top honors at Oscars

Silent film wins three top categories; Malick's ‘Tree of Life' shut out

Charles Ealy
Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy of 'Bridesmaids' drink a toast to Martin Scorsese as they present an award Sunday night.

"The Artist," which came out of seemingly nowhere at the Cannes Film Festival in May and wowed critics with its black-and-white silent homage to early Hollywood, won the Oscar for best picture Sunday night the first silent film to do so since "Wings" won at the inaugural Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.

"The Artist" also won Oscar gold for French director Michel Hazanavicius as well as for actor Jean Dujardin, who plays a famous silent movie star who falls on hard times after the rise of the talkies. Overall, "The Artist" took home five Oscars, including original score and costume design.

"The Artist" beat two movies with Texas ties in the best picture race — "The Tree of Life," directed by Austin's Terrence Malick, and the Southern racial drama "The Help," produced by part-time Austinite Brunson Green.

But Octavia Spencer, who plays a brassy maid in 1960s Mississippi in "The Help," won for supporting actress and gave a tearful acceptance speech, thanking Green and others.

Meryl Streep, who played former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady," won best actress. Before the show, she held the Oscar record with 17 acting nominations, and with Sunday's win, she now has three Oscars.

Christopher Plummer, 82, became the oldest acting Oscar winner ever, earning supporting honors for his role as a gay father who comes out of the closet and faces death with humor in "The Beginners."

"You're only two years older than me, darling," Plummer said, addressing his Oscar statue in this 84th year of the awards. "Where have you been all my life? I have a confession to make. When I first emerged from my mother's womb, I was already rehearsing my Oscar speech."

The previous oldest winner was best-actress recipient Jessica Tandy for "Driving Miss Daisy," at age 80.

Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," which went into the evening with 11 nominations — the most of any film — won five Oscars: art direction, cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects.

The "Hugo" award for cinematography eliminated the best chance of victory for "The Tree of Life," with Robert Richardson beating Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki.

Gore Verbinski's "Rango," featuring the voices of Johnny Depp and Timothy Olyphant, won the animated feature Oscar.

The best foreign-language Oscar went to "A Separation," a tale of divided families and cultural conflict, from Iran. It beat Belgium's "Bullhead," which is being distributed by Austin's Drafthouse Films.

Esperanza Spalding, the Austin jazz musician, sang "What a Wonderful World" during the annual "In Memoriam" segment, honoring people in the film industry who died in the past year.

Back as Oscar host for the first time in eight years, Billy Crystal did his signature introduction of the best-picture nominees with a goofy song.

Before his monologue, Crystal appeared in a collection of clips inserting him in scenes from key nominees. The montage included re-creations from some 2011 films featuring Tom Cruise of "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol" and George Clooney's best-picture contender "The Descendants," with the actor planting a kiss on Crystal.

Spoofing a scene from nominee "Midnight in Paris," Justin Bieber told Crystal he was there to bring in the 18-to-24-year-old demographic for the 63-year-old host.

Crystal's return as host seemed appropriate on a night that had Hollywood looking back fondly on more than a century of cinema history.

The top two nominees — "Hugo" and "The Artist" — are both love songs to early cinema.

Add the Marilyn Monroe tale "My Week with Marilyn" — which earned Michelle Williams a best-actress nomination as Hollywood's greatest sex goddess and Kenneth Branagh a supporting-actor nomination as Oscar winner Laurence Olivier — and the show's producers had a ready-made script for a night of fond recollection and backslapping about show business.

But all of the nostalgia added little or no kick to the overall show, which dragged on until about 9:50 p.m. without any of the top awards for picture, director, actor or actress.

Other awards:

Documentary: "Undefeated," which dealt with an underdog high school football team in Memphis and made its world premiere at South by Southwest Film Festival last March. Directed by TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas.

Editing: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

Makeup: "The Iron Lady."

Original song: "Man or Muppet" from "The Muppets."

Adapted screenplay: "The Descendants," by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

Original screenplay: "Midnight in Paris," by Woody Allen.

Short, live action: "The Shore," which beat "Time Freak," produced by University of Texas graduate Gigi Causey.

Documentary short: "Saving Face."

Animated short: "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore."

With additional material from the Los Angeles Times.

cealy@statesman.com; modam@statesman.com