The black-and-white silent film "The Artist" won Oscars for best picture, actor and director at Sunday night's 84th annual Academy Awards ceremony, tying Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" with five wins each to become the night's biggest winners.
While the unknown French actor Jean Dujardin edged out George Clooney and Brad Pitt to win best actor, it was a familiar face, Meryl Streep, who won best actress for "The Iron Lady." It was her record-breaking 17th Oscar nomination and her third win -- her first since the 1982 film "Sophie's Choice."
"I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, 'Oh, no! Come on, why her again?' " Streep said in her acceptance speech. She added: "But, whatever!"
"Hugo," an elaborate, 3-D fantasy film that entered the race in the lead with 11 nominations, won mostly in technical categories like cinematography, art direction and visual effects. In the higher-profile categories, the night belonged to "The Artist," whose wins included best director for Michel Hazanavicius, costume design and original score.
Overall, the 84th Oscars were another ceremony in which many of the top-nominated movies were not box-office hits - "The Artist" has earned only $31.8 million -- and may not have registered with viewers at home. Several A-list stars, such as Leonardo DiCaprio in "J. Edgar" and Charlize Theron in "Young Adult," were not nominated at all.
That made this year a good one to bring back the popular Billy Crystal, returning for the ninth time as Oscar host. Once again playing court jester to Hollywood royalty, Crystal ran through his usual routines, such as spoofing the nominated movies in his opening medley and pretending to know what audiences members were thinking.
Unlike Ricky Gervais, the overly biting host of the Golden Globes, Crystal danced a fine line between safe and daring. He poked fun at Jonah Hill's weight loss ("They're serving cupcakes after the show") and Plummer's age, but also thanked by name people like Clooney and Tom Cruise, who appeared in his comedic clips.
"We're gonna slam the 78-to-84 group," Crystal said in a jibe at the Oscars' frequent concerns over drawing in younger viewers. "Next year this should be called the Flomax theater."
Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress for "The Help" and 82-year-old Christopher Plummer won best supporting actor for "Beginners."
"You're only two years older than me, darling," Plummer said to his statuette as he became the oldest Oscar winner. "Where have you been all my life?"
Other memorable moments:
STUPID 'DICTATOR' TRICKS Sacha Baron Cohen arrived on the red carpet dressed in an over-the-top white military uniform, sunglasses and a thick beard to promote his upcoming film "The Dictator." Holding an urn he jokingly claimed were the ashes of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, Cohen then dumped the container onto "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest.
KEEPING WITH TRADITION Before his monologue, Crystal inserted himself in clips spoofing the nominated pictures and then some. He manhandled Tom Cruise in the fourth "Mission: Impossible," kissed George Clooney in "The Descendants" and stumbled on Justin Bieber in "Midnight in Paris."
RACE-Y MATERIAL Crystal claimed that after seeing "The Help" he wanted to "hug the first black woman I saw, which in Beverly Hills is like a 45-minute drive."