The Artist has become the first silent film to win an Oscar for best picture since 1929 on a night when movies about the early days of cinema took centre stage.
The film’s success at the 84th Academy Awards capped a big night for The Weinstein Company, which released the film. Founded by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, The Weinstein Company can count on the film receiving a big box office boost over the coming weeks.
But the evening also acknowledged tensions in the Middle East, when A Separation, a highly charged drama about middle class life in Tehran, became the first film from Iran to win in the best foreign language category.
Asghar Farhadi, who directed the film, said his fellow Iranians were happy, “not just because of an important award or a film, or a film-maker, but because at a time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country Iran is spoken here through her glorious culture”.
But the night belonged to The Artist, which won best picture, best director and best score, while Jean Dujardin won for best actor, beating George Clooney, the pre-show favourite, who was expected to win for his performance in The Descendants.
The Artist is a love letter to the glory days of Hollywood and its silent movie history: not since Wings won at the 1929 ceremony has a silent movie taken the top prize. When Michel Hazanavicius accepted his best director award for The Artist he thanked Billy Wilder, the director of classic Hollywood films, such as Some Like It Hot.
“I could thank him like a thousand times because I think he’s the perfect director, the perfect example,” Mr Hazanavicius said afterwards. “He’s the soul of Hollywood and I wanted to thank him and I love him.”
The Weinstein Company scored another success with The Iron Lady, which netted Meryl Streep her third Oscar, this time for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher.
Hugo, another film which celebrated the early days of cinema, dominated the technical awards, winning cinematography and art direction. Christopher Plummer won best supporting actor for his performance in Beginners, winning his first Oscar at the age of 82.
“Darling, you are only two years older than me,” he said, gazing at his Oscar statue during his acceptance speech. “Where have you been all my life?”
Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress for her role in The Help, while The Descendants won best adapted screenplay. Woody Allen won best screenplay – his fourth Oscar – for Midnight in Paris.
The ceremony was hosted by Billy Crystal, who was brought in at a late stage to replace Eddie Murphy. Mr Murphy quit when Brett Ratner, who was originally in line to produce the awards, resigned after making offensive comments in a radio interview.
Mr Crystal, older than the younger viewers coveted by the Academy and ABC, its broadcasting partner, nevertheless scored with some witty lines, although the Academy will have a keen eye on the audience size when the ratings are released on Monday.