The black-and-white film picked up five awards in all, including best picture, actor for Jean Dujardin and directing for Michel Hazanavicius.
The last time a silent film earned the top prize was when the World War I saga “Wings” was named outstanding picture at the first Oscars in 1929.
Since premiering at Cannes in 2011, the mostly-silent film has captured the hearts of film audiences (and Jack Russell terrier lovers) worldwide. “The Artist” follows the spiral decline of film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) during the advent of the talkies.
“I want to say very important things. I want to say hi to my kids and it’s six in the morning in Paris, so 30 seconds,” director Michel Hazanavicius said while accepting the award.
“I want to thank Billy Wilder, I want to thank Billy Wilder and I want to thank Billy Wilder,” said Michel Hazanavicius.
Meryl Streep, a winner for her portrayal of a doddering Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” made her victory look like a shock, according to The New York Times.
But she hadn’t won since 1983, even though she reigns as the actor with the most nominations in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with 17 in all.
The win puts her in a category with other three-time Oscar winners Jack Nicholson, Walter Brennan and Ingrid Bergman. Only Katharine Hepburn – with four wins – had more.
“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.
“I really understand I’ll never be up here again,” she continued. “I really want to think all my colleagues, my friends. I look out here and I see my life before my eyes, my old friends, my new friends. Really, this is such a great honor but the think that counts the most with me is the friendship and the love and the sheer job we’ve shared making moves together.”
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, reports Reuters.
“Merci, beaucoup, I love you!” shouted Jean Dujardin, as he picked up his award as best actor for a movie that was conceived in France, but showered its adoration on the Hollywood of yore.
Dujardin became the first Frenchman to win an acting Oscar. French actresses have won before, including Marion Cotillard and Juliette Binoche.
Christopher Plummer, born in 1929, won his first Academy Award, as best supporting actor, for “Beginners.”
“You’re only two years older than me, darling — where have you been all my life?” said Mr. Plummer, in picking up a statuette that was first given for films made in 1927 and 1928.
Octavia Spencer won Oscar as supporting actress for “The Help”
Spencer, who played a headstrong black maid in 1960s Mississippi, wept throughout her breathless speech, in which she apologized, between laughing and crying, for running a bit long on her time limit.
“Thank you, Academy, for putting me with the hottest guy in the room,” Spencer said, referring to last year’s supporting-actor winner Christian Bale, who presented her award.
Martin Scorsese’s Paris adventure “Hugo”, which led contenders with 11 nominations, won five Oscars, including the first two prizes of the night, for cinematography and art direction. It also won for visual effects, sound mixing and sound editing.
“Rango,” with Johnny Depp providing the voice of a desert lizard that becomes a hero to a parched Western town, won for best animated feature, while Iran’s “A Separation” won for foreign language film.
“Undefeated,” a portrait of an underdog high school football team, won for documentary feature.
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 present each other with golden statues” and sang a comic song about the movies.