Christopher Plummer poses with presenter Melissa Leo and his award for best supporting actor for Beginners. Joel Ryan / Associated Press
Octavia Spencer cries after winning the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in The Help. Gary Hershorn / Reuters
LOS ANGELES - Hollywood showed some love for its history at the Oscars on Sunday (Monday, Beijing time), giving its best film award and four others to silent movie The Artist in a ceremony that recalled why cinema is special to so many people.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also gave Oscars to Meryl Streep playing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, while veteran Christopher Plummer made history by becoming the oldest winner ever at age 82 with his role as an elderly gay man in Beginners.
But it was the The Artist - a French movie that has been called a love letter to old Hollywood by its makers - that charmed Oscar voters. Made in the style of old silents, it tells a romantic story of a fading star in the era when silent movies were overtaken by talkies.
The Artist collected Oscars for its star Jean Dujardin and director Michel Hazanavicius, as well as for musical score and costume design.
"I am the happiest director in the world right now. Thank you for that," Hazanavicius told the audience of stars, including George Clooney, Michelle Williams, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and members of the Academy.
Dujardin was equally excited, exclaiming, "I love this country", before thanking the Academy, the film's makers and his wife, and calling silent actor Douglas Fairbanks an inspiration.
Veteran Plummer, a star of the classic film 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 his golden Oscar, which was celebrating its 84th awards ceremony.
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 maid in the 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.
Director Martin Scorsese's Hugo, which like The Artist pays tribute to early filmmaking, came into the night with a leading 11 nominations - one more than The Artist - and also picked up five wins. But its Oscars came in the technical categories of cinematography, art direction, sound editing and mixing and visual effects.
Another highly touted movie, the family drama The Descendants, walked off with only one Oscar, adapted screenplay for its writer and director Alexander Payne and co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Woody Allen won for original screenplay with Midnight in Paris, but he was not on hand to accept his 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," its director, Ashgar Farhadi, said.
Rango claimed the best-animated film prize, while The Iron Lady won a second award for makeup.
The documentary category saw another major surprise for Undefeated, a film about football players in a poor struggling community working to make their lives better.
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 presenting each other with golden statues" and sang a comic song about the movies.