Nostalgia ruled, with the classic film homages The Artist and Hugo dominating with five awards each, Meryl Streep winning her first best-actress prize in nearly three decades and longtime favourite Billy Crystal returning as host.
The Artist, a black-and-white love letter to silent film, won best picture, best director for France’s Michel Hazanavicius and best actor for Jean Dujardin as an actor who finds his career in danger with the arrival of the talkies. It is the first silent film to win best picture since Wings in 1929.
Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s 3D mixture of family adventure and plea for film preservation, collected all its prizes in the technical categories.
Many had chosen Viola Davis to win best actress for her formidable portrayal of a maid in the 1960s South in The Help. But Streep, who’s been nominated more than anyone in Oscar history — 17 times — hadn’t won since 1982’s Sophie’s Choice.
There were gasps and cheers when Streep’s name was called for her performance as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
Asked whether she might celebrate with a couple of whiskeys — Thatcher’s favourite drink — Streep deadpanned: “I’m going to start with a couple.”
Christopher Plummer earned his long overdue Oscar for supporting actor for the romantic comedy Beginners, in which he plays a 75-year-old man who finally comes out as gay. At 82, he’s the oldest acting winner ever. “You’re only two years older than me, darling,” Plummer said, admiring his trophy. “Where have you been all my life?”
Supporting actress winner, Octavia Spencer, played a sassy, subversive maid in The Help.
The live action short film prize went to Terry and Oorlagh George’s The Shore, set in the North.
George dedicated his win to “the people of Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic, who after 30 years of war sat down, negotiated a peace and proved to the world that the Irish are great talkers”.
George, who wrote the Guildford Four film In the Name of the Father, said he would celebrate by going back “to the little village where we shot this”.
“Already tonight they had an Oscar party at a place called The Anchor Bar, so I’m going to return with the prize, and then hopefully use it to promote, not just the peace process in Northern Ireland, but tourism and everything that’s going on there.”