Silence is golden as Oscar revisits the good old days

IT was out with the new, in with the old as Oscar threw both arms around Hollywood as it used to be, anointing the oldest-ever winner of an Academy Award and picking a silent movie as best picture for only the second time in history.

IT was out with the new, in with the old as Oscar threw both arms around Hollywood as it used to be, anointing the oldest-ever winner of an Academy Award and picking a silent movie as best picture for only the second time in history.

As widely predicted, The Artist swept the major categories, winning best picture, director, actor, costume design and original score. Its five wins out of 11 nominations was equalled by Martin Scorsese's Hugo (10 nominations), with wins for art direction, cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects.

The only other silent movie to win best picture was Wings in 1928, the first year of the awards.

Director Michel Hazanavicius thanked his wife, Berenice Bejo, a nominee as best supporting actress for her role in his black-and-white silent (but for a handful of words at the very end) picture, praising her as "the soul . . . and the positive feeling of the movie".

He also thanked one of the greatest writer-directors in Hollywood history, albeit one who has been dead since 2002. "I want to thank three person," the Frenchman said. "I want to thank Billy Wilder, I want to thank Billy Wilder, and I want to thank Billy Wilder."

The Artist's leading man took advantage of the language gap as he delivered part of his best actor acceptance speech in French. "If [my character] George Valentin could speak he'd say, 'Wow! Putain! Genial! Merci! Formidable, merci beaucoup. I love you.' " The obscenity went uncensored.

The evening's first standing ovation went to The Help's Octavia Spencer, a winner for best supporting actress. She also delivered the ceremony's first blubbered speech, and quite possibly made history as the first actor ever to ask the producers to wind her up before her allotted 45 seconds.

Far more polished was Meryl Streep, 62, winning her third award from 17 nominations. "When they called my name I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, 'Oh, no. Oh, come on, why? Her. Again,' " she said. "But, whatever."

Australian editor Kirk Baxter raised in Sydney but based in Los Angeles won for the second year running for his work (with Angus Wall) on David Fincher's remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The pair won last year for Fincher's The Social Network.

The only other glimmer of antipodean joy came when Bret McKenzie, one half of Kiwi musical-comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, won best song (in a field of just two) for Man or Muppet, from The Muppets.

With Billy Crystal coaxed out of retirement at 62 to host his ninth telecast he was a late replacement for Eddie Murphy, who pulled out when original producer Brett Ratner was forced to step down over a gay slur the 84th Academy Awards turned its back on last year's poorly received experiment with youth. Except, that is, in a smattering of gags at its own grey-around-the-temples expense.

When 82-year-old Canadian Christopher Plummer became the oldest winner in Oscar history for his role as a dying man who comes out to his family in Beginners, Crystal joked: "The average age of the winners has now jumped to 67."

Plummer took the stage to a standing ovation. Gazing at his statuette he said: "You're only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?"

THE WINNERS

BEST PICTURE The Artist

BEST DIRECTOR The Artist Michel Hazanavicius

BEST ACTOR Jean Dujardin in The Artist

BEST ACTRESS Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Christopher Plummer in Beginners

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Octavia Spencer in The Help

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY The Descendants by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE Rango Gore Verbinski

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE Undefeated

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM A Separation - Iran

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