LOS ANGELES – “The Artist” won five Academy Awards on Sunday including best picture, becoming the first silent film to triumph at Hollywood’s highest honors since the original Oscar ceremony 83 years ago.
Among other prizes 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.”
“The Artist” is the first silent winner since the World War I saga “Wings” was named outstanding picture at the first Oscars in 1929.
“I am the happiest director in the world,” Hazanavicius said, thanking the cast, crew and canine co-star Uggie. “I also want to thank the financier, the crazy person who put money in the movie.”
The win was Streep’s first Oscar in 29 years, since she won best actress for “Sophie’s Choice.” She had lost 13 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.
“I really understand I’ll never be up here again. 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 thing that counts the most with me is the friendship and the love and the sheer job we’ve shared making moves together.”
Streep is only the fifth performer to receive three Oscars. Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman and Walter Brennan all earned three, while Katharine Hepburn won four.
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 in this 84th year of the awards. “Where have you been all my life? I have a confession to make. When I first emerged from my mother’s womb, I was already rehearsing my Oscar speech.”
The previous oldest winner was best-actress recipient Jessica Tandy for “Driving Miss Daisy,” at age 80.
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 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 Oscar.
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. If George Valentin could speak, Dujardin said, “he’d say ... ‘Merci beaucoup, formidable!”’
Claiming Hollywood’s top-filmmaking honor completes Hazanavicius’ sudden rise from popular movie-maker back home in France to internationally celebrated director.
Hazanavicius had come in as the favorite after winning at the Directors Guild of America Awards, whose recipient almost always goes on to claim the Oscar.
The win is even more impressive given the type of film Hazanavicius made, a black-and-white silent movie that was a throwback to the early decades of cinema. Other than Charles Chaplin, who continued to make silent films into the 1930s, and Mel Brooks, who scored a hit with the 1976 comedy “Silent Movie,” few people have tried it since talkies took over in the late 1920s.