'The Artist' Finds its Voice at The Oscars

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The Artist was named Best Picture of the Year at The 84th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood Sunday night, with top acting honors going to Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady and Jean Dujardin for The Artist, and supporting actor honors going to Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Octavia Spencer (The Help).

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It was a neck-and-neck race to the finish between The Artist and Martin Scorsese's Hugo for the most awards of the night, and both whimsical period pieces crossed the finish line with a total of five wins each. The Artist also beat out Best Picture contenders The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life and War Horse.

In a bit of an upset, Streep won her third Oscar for her spot-on portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, besting front-runner Viola Davis (The Help), Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn). "When they called my name I had this feeling that half of America said, 'Oh no, her again?" said the self-effacing star. "But, whatever." The 17-time Oscar nominee closed her speech by saying she was "sure she'd never be up here again" and thanking, "all my colleagues and all my friends … the thing that counts the most with me is the friendships and the love."

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In being named Best Actor, French star Dujardin bested tough competition in George Clooney (The Descendants), Brad Pitt (Moneyball), Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and Demián Bichir (A Better Life). "I love your country," said an overjoyed Dujardin. "So many of you here tonight have inspired me. If [my character] George Valentin could speak right now, he'd say, 'Merci! Formidable! Merci beaucoup, I love you!'"

Spencer was named Best Supporting Actress over Bridesmaids star Melissa McCarthy, Albert Nobbs' Janet McTeer, The Artist's Bérénice Bejo and her Help co-star Jessica Chastain. "Thank you, Academy, for putting me with the hottest guy in the room," quipped the break-out character actor before breaking down in tears of joy. "I share this with everybody. … I'm sorry, I'm freakin' out. Thank you world!"

Legendary octogenarian Plummer trumped Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Nick Nolte (Warrior) and fellow 82-year-old Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) for Best Supporting Actor. The Beginners star, who is now in the record books as the oldest actor to win the Golden Boy, faced his gleaming statuette and joked, "You're only two years older than me, darling, where have you been all my life?"

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Of the technical awards, Hugo earned the first two statuettes of the night: Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. It also earned Best Makeup, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. The Descendants earned Best Adapted Screenplay, while Best Original Screenplay went to Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. The Artist nabbed Best Original Score and Costume Design along with Best Director, Michel Hazanavicius. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hacked Best Film Editing. Man or Muppet from The Muppet Movie was named Best Original Song, and Best Makeup went to The Iron Lady for Streep's incredible transformation into Thatcher.

Other top awards went to Rango for Best Animated Feature Film; the football documentary Undefeated was named Best Documentary Feature; and Iran's A Separation was named Best Foreign Language Film, a first for that country.

Billy Crystal's ninth stint hosting the Oscars was punctuated by a heavy dose of Catskills-style humor, but he kept the evening light and flowing nonetheless, opening with his traditional spoof of all the Best Picture nominees (complete with a kiss on the lips from George Clooney and a Justin Bieber cameo for the "18-24 demographic") and his usual "Who Will Win?" tune incorporating all nine nominees. He did trip-up at one point in the evening, however, calling A-list couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie "Billygelina." Surely he knows that Billy Bob Thornton is out of the picture, but a keen ear could still catch the flub.

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Other highlights of the broadcast included a tongue-in-cheek Wizard of Oz focus group (with the Christopher Guest improv troupe); Melissa McCarthy's attempted "seduction" of Crystal backstage; she later downed a shot of vodka during an impromptu round of the "Scorsese" drinking game; stars such as Tom Cruise, Reese Witherspoon and Robert Downey Jr. shared their favorite movie moments; and Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis marched through the auditorium in white tuxes, crashing their cymbals in Brad and Angelina's faces.

Of course, the always bittersweet In Memoriam segment seemed especially poignant with the still-fresh passing of Whitney Houston. Others late stars remembered included Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Russell, Peter Falk, Cliff Robertson, Jackie Cooper, Ben Gazzara and even Steve Jobs.

Watch ET for complete coverage of The 84th annual Academy Awards!