'The Artist' wins Oscars for picture, actor, director

Turns out the feeling was mutual.

Filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius crafted a love letter to the cinema with his black-and-white, silent film "The Artist" and, Sunday, Hollywood returned the affection with Oscars for best picture, director and leading actor Jean Dujardin.

"I love your country," an exuberant Mr. Dujardin said. "In 1929, it wasn't Billy Crystal but Douglas Fairbanks who hosted the first Oscar ceremony. Tickets cost $5 and it lasted 15 minutes. Times have changed."

In "The Artist," Mr. Dujardin plays George Valentin, a screen idol in Hollywood who refuses to buy into the next big thing: the talkies. That decision, along with the Depression, costs him his fame, his marriage, his home, his confidence and his chauffeur, everything but his faithful dog and an extra turned leading lady.

If George Valentin could speak, he would shout, "Merci beaucoup, I love you!" the French actor, largely known for a pair of spy spoofs until now, said before

The 84th Academy Awards, hosted by Billy Crystal for a ninth time, also added the delightful descriptive of "Oscar winner" to the names of Meryl Streep of "the Iron Lady,", Octavia Spencer from "The Help" and Christopher Plummer of "Beginners."

Time was on the side of many of the winners, which turned the clock back to 1927 Los Angeles as in "The Artist," 1931 Paris in "Hugo" and 1960s segregated Mississippi in "The Help."

"I am the happiest director in the world right now," Mr. Hazanavicius said, shaking his head and acknowledging he forgot his speech. He managed to thank everyone from the crazy financiers to the cast, including Uggie the dog, and said the movie's life "is full of grace and it brings to us joy and happiness and sometimes life is wonderful and today is one of these days."

The 82-year-old Plummer became the oldest person to win an acting Oscar, nudging aside Jessica Tandy by roughly two years. Previously nominated for playing Tolstoy in "The Last Station," he won for "Beginners" in which he is a former museum director coping with life outside the closet and, later, a diagnosis of cancer.

Greeted by an extended standing ovation, Mr. Plummer looked at Oscar and said, "You're only two years older than me, darling, where have you been all my life? I have a confession to make, when I emerged from my mother's womb, I was already rehearsing my Academy thank you speech. But it was so long ago, mercifully for you, I've forgotten it."

"Beginners" is many things: the story of a man who spent six decades concealing his sexual orientation; a look at a father-son bond tested by secrets and serious illness; a man's struggle with sadness and serial relationships; a reminder about prejudice against homosexuals and Jews in the 1930s; and now-amusingly ironic images of family life in the 1960s.

Mr. Plummer, a longtime stage and Shakespearean actor, graciously named his fellow nominees and saluted "Beginners" writer-director Mike Mills, co-star Ewan McGregor, his personal band of agents provocateurs, daughter Amanda Plummer and his wife, Elaine, "who deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for coming to my rescue every day of my life."

Mr. Crystal had a little fun in introducing last year's supporting actor winner, Christian Bale: "Be careful, you're in his eye line," a reference to a long-ago eruption during filming "Terminator Salvation." Mr. Bale let that pass as he handed out the award for best supporting actress to Ms. Spencer.

"Thank you Academy for putting me with the hottest guy in the room," she said, perhaps referring to the presenter, perhaps to Oscar. "I have to thank my families -- my family in Alabama, the state of Alabama, my LA family ... my 'Help' family," she paused, to swallow her tears.

"Thank you Steven Spielberg for changing my life, thank you [DreamWorks executive] Stacey Snider for changing my life. Please wrap up, I'm wrapping up, I'm sorry, I'm freaking out. Thank you world."

Clad in a lovely white Tadashi Shoji gown on Sunday, she had met "The Help" director-writer Tate Taylor in 1996 when both were production assistants on "A Time to Kill" and she had a small role in that legal thriller. She later was named to EW's list of 25 funniest actresses in Hollywood and amassed feature-film and TV credits but still swooned like a newcomer when she found herself next to fellow guest Denzel Washington on a late-night talk show.

"The Help" novelist Kathryn Stockett, whose book is set in Jackson, Miss., in the 1960s, modeled some of maid Minny Jackson's traits -- particularly her outspokenness -- on her friend Ms. Spencer. Minny is an excellent cook, abused wife and mother of five living in an oppressive racial environment.

About an hour into the show, Cirque du Soleil brought a hush to the audience as the troupe dramatized in dance and acrobatics (Spidey style, without the mishaps) what it's like to go to the movies. The largest Cirque cast ever assembled dangled from the ceiling, gracefully flew over the audience and executed back-twisting bends, leaving Mr. Crystal to say, "Wow, I pulled a hamstring, just watching that."

In other high points of the night, "A Separation" became the first movie from Iran to win the Academy Award for foreign film. Its story of a thwarted divorce which leads to a legal and moral thicket is now playing at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Regent Square Theater.

Woody Allen was, as usual, absent when he won the original screenplay honor for "Midnight in Paris" while "The Descendants" took the prize for adapted screenplay. "This is Jim, this is Nat, I'm Alexander," Alexander Payne said, before thanking his mom for letting him skip nursery school so they could go to the movies.

She had exacted a promise from Mr. Payne, who also directed "The Descendants," to dedicate any future Oscars to his mother, just like Javier Bardem. He previously won for adapting "Sideways."

"Rango" was, as expected, the winner for best animated film while "Undefeated," a movie that has grown men sniffling or outright crying, won the statuette for documentary. It tracks one memorable football season at a poor public school in North Memphis, Tenn.

They're trying for their first playoff win in 110 years, but it's about far more than that: volunteer coach Bill Courtney (who walked the red carpet in a tuxedo with the filmmakers), his underdog players, and lessons about absent dads, real-life "Blind Side" stories and how football doesn't build character but reveals it.

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" brought winners Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall to the stage for best film editing but they didn't expect to be there and shortly said, "Let's get out of here."

Mark Bridges, "just a kid from Niagara Falls who dreamed, ate and slept movies," picked up the first award for "The Artist" when he won for his costumes which chronicled stars in ascent and descent and all of those surrounding them in the late 1920s and after. "The Artist" also won the Oscar for original score for Ludovic Bource.

Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland claimed the Academy Award for makeup for largely transforming Ms. Streep into Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and helping her to age convincingly through four decades.

"Thanks, Meryl, for keeping me employed for the last 37 years," Mr. Helland said. "Your brilliance makes my work look good, no matter what. I'm a child of the Saturday and Sunday double-double features, so getting to work in the movies is a dream come true."

The first two awards of the night -- cinematography and art direction -- went to "Hugo," which had entered the ceremony with a leading 11 nominations, more than any other picture.

"Hugo" later picked up its third and fourth Oscars for sound editing and sound mixing, a testament to the creation and seamless blending of sounds, from a bustling train station to a screeching locomotive and, of course, all of those ticking timepieces. It added a fifth for visual effects.

Depending on when you tuned in, you might have mistaken the 84th Academy Awards for a black-tie salute to Marty, aka "Hugo" director Martin Scorsese. In fact, "Bridesmaids" stars Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy continued their drinking game; pulling bottles of booze from their bosoms when Mr. Scorsese's name was heard.

Cinematographer Robert Richardson and production designer Dante Ferretti and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo all thanked Mr. Scorsese, sitting next to his 12-year-old daughter, Francesca, who had inspired him to make a family film.

Amid the frivolity, the serious subject of acid attacks on women in Pakistan were addressed when "Saving Face" by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won the Oscar for documentary short subject.

Ms. Obaid-Chinoy dedicated the award to the heroes on the ground in Pakistan, including the plastic surgeon who travels from Britain to operate on the women, along with the women who have demonstrated resilience and bravery in the light of such adversity. "To all the women in Pakistan who are working for change, don't give up on your dreams. This is for you."

Mr. Crystal hosted for the ninth time since March 1990, but the first since the Kodak Theatre was legally stripped of its name (although not its letters visible from Hollywood Boulevard). "We're here at the beautiful Chapter 11 theater," he joked. Later, he called it the "your name here theater."

He recycled his favorites -- inserting himself into movies and saluting the best pictures with a musical medley -- which seemed crisper than in years past or maybe we just missed it.

The emcee was tortured like George Valentin in "The Artist," awakened from a "Descendants" coma by a George Clooney kiss, encountered Justin Bieber at midnight in Paris and ate pie baked by Minny Jackson of "The Help" and tried to warn the "Bridesmaids" about it, but it was too late. (You know what we mean.)


Winners announced during the 84th Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night. For a complete list of nominees and winners: oscars.org.

• Best Picture: "The Artist."

• Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, "The Artist."

• Best Actress: Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady."

• Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners."

• Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, "The Help."

• Director: Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist."

• Original Screenplay: "Midnight in Paris."

• Adapted Screenplay: "The Descendants."

• Foreign Language Film: "A Separation," Iran.

• Animated Film: "Rango."

• Art Direction: "Hugo."

• Cinematography: "Hugo."

• Costume Design: "The Artist."

• Documentary (Feature): "Undefeated."

• Documentary (Short Subject): "Saving Face."

• Film Editing: "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

• Makeup: "The Iron Lady."

• Original Score: "The Artist."

• Original Song: "Man or Muppet," "The Muppets."

• Short Film (Animated): "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore."

• Short Film (Live Action): "The Shore."

• Sound Editing: "Hugo."

• Sound Mixing: "Hugo."

• Visual Effects: "Hugo."

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies . First Published February 27, 2012 5:45 AM


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