Stars come out for Oscar party
The Artist won five Academy Awards including best picture, becoming the first silent film to triumph at Hollywood's highest honours since the original Oscar ceremony 83 years ago.
Among other prizes awarded for the black-and-white comic melodrama were best actor for Jean Dujardin and director for Michel Hazanavicius.
The other top Oscars went to Meryl Streep as best actress for The Iron Lady, Octavia Spencer as supporting actress for The Help and Christopher Plummer as supporting actor for Beginners.
Streep's win was her first Oscar in 29 years, since she won best actress for Sophie's Choice. She had lost 12 times in a row since then. Streep also has a supporting-actress Oscar for 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer.
"When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America go, 'Oh, no, why her again?' But whatever," Streep said, laughing.
Streep's triumph provided a bit of drama, since she had been in a two-woman race with Viola Davis for The Help. The biggest surprise may have been the length of the show, which clocked in at about three hours and 10 minutes, brisk for a ceremony that has run well over four hours some years.
The 82-year-old Plummer became the oldest acting winner ever for his role as an elderly widower who comes out as gay in Beginners. "You're only two years older than me, darling," Plummer said, addressing his Oscar statue. "Where have you been all my life?"
Completing an awards-season blitz that took her from Hollywood bit player to star, Spencer won for her role in The Help as a headstrong black maid whose willful ways continually land her in trouble with white employers in 1960s Mississippi.
Spencer wept throughout her breathless speech, in which she apologised between laughing and crying for running a bit long on her time limit.
Dujardin became the first Frenchman to win an acting Oscar. French actresses have won before, including Marion Cotillard and Juliette Binoche.
"Oh, thank you. Oui. I love your country!" said Dujardin, who plays George Valentin, a silent-film superstar fallen on hard times as the sound era takes over.
Host Billy Crystal got the show off to a lively start with a star-laden montage in which he hangs out with Justin Bieber and gets a nice wet kiss from George Clooney.