It wasn’t a great telecast, but it had some great moments and was much better than last year.

Silence is golden for ‘The Artist’

LOS ANGELES — Silence is golden! The Artist is the best picture winner at the 84th Academy Awards, making it the first silent film to win this award since the very first Oscar ceremony in 1929.

Taking the top prize at the end of a long night meant that a co-production of France and Belgium won. Yet it was also the only one of the nine best picture nominees that had been filmed entirely in Los Angeles. The Artist, shot in black-and-white, re-creates the lives of silent cinema in Hollywood in the 1920s, just as the arrival of sound threatened careers of many stars.

Formidable! Jean Dujardin plays the silent film star who gives The Artist its title and he triumphed as best actor, pushing aside early favourite and Hollywood superstar George Clooney for the Oscar.

“I love this country!” Dujardin enthused at the Kodak Theatre before ending his acceptance speech with a rousing explosion of joyous French phrases, which he said was what his character would have said if he was able to speak more than two words on-screen.

If Dujardin’s win was expected, Meryl Streep’s was not when she took best actress for The Iron Lady. She beat out Viola Davis, a classy nominee who gave her rival a big hug before Streep went up on stage. Streep, who took home her third Oscar from 17 career nominations, half joked that she figures that “half of America” would have let out a big sigh when they heard her name called because they have seen her before. “But whatever!” Streep said with a mischievous grin.

Overall, many films were chosen for the Oscar party, a lot more than usual this year. Going into Oscar night, 18 feature films had at least two nominations in the 20 categories devoted to feature films — and another 23 had one nomination each.

But a lot fewer were taken to the podium, of course. The winners list was reduced to 11: The Artist, Hugo, The Help, The Descendants, Midnight in Paris, The Iron Lady, Rango, Beginners, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Muppets, Rango and A Separation. More critically, only three were multiple winners. The Artist earned five Oscars ˜ with the big one included. That meant it is tied with Hugo, which also won five times. The Iron Lady won two awards.

Oscar also has a new motto: Better late than never. At 82, Canadian legend Christopher Plummer is now the oldest winner in an acting category in Oscar history of the Academy Awards.

The graceful yet acerbic and funny Plummer won the best supporting actor Oscar for playing a gay man coming out of the closet in the film Beginners. His nomination was the only one Beginners got — but Plummer made it pay handsomely. “You’re only two years older than me, darling,” Plummer said as he cradled his trophy. “Where have you been all my life?” Plummer is a second-time nominee but only a first-time winner. He had said before the Oscar show start that it was time to win because “there isn’t much more of me left.”

Backstage, Plummer was wearing his Order of Canada pin on his velvet tuxedo. He was, he said, “representing my country here.” He also responded to a Sun Media question saying that an Oscar at this point in his life is “la creme on top” like the topping for a dessert. And he promised to keep on working and would die “on stage or on set.”

Meanwhile, the Oscars are not just politically correct, they are intelligent. Octavia Spencer is now an Academy Award winner for brilliantly playing a black maid who raises white people’s children in the 1960s drama The Help.

Spencer demonstrated that, even when it is expected, an Oscar win can drive the winner to distraction. “I’m freaking out!” a tearful Spencer said on stage at the Kodak Theatre as the audience burst into rapturous applause at the announcement of one of the first big awards. “Thank you Academy for putting me with the hottest guy in the room,” Spencer said as she clutched her golden statuette.

Spencer’s win comes in a long and distinguished line of African-American winners. Hattie McDaniel broke the Academy Award colour barrier in the acting categories 72 Oscars ago by being the first black to even be nominated, for playing Mammy in Gone With the Wind (1939). Organizers forced her to sit in the back. But, when McDaniel won, it made history.

Canada, meanwhile, suffered a series of defeats. As expected, the Iranian film A Separation won as best foreign language film. It is thought to be good politics for Americans to choose it, because — as director Asghar Farhadi said in his acceptance speech — it means that people will say Iran and refer to the country’s history of “glorious culture” and not political conflict. That put Montreal filmmaker Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar on the sidelines, although Falardeau has repeatedly said he would enjoy the Oscar ride and that his film is already a winner for its international attention and sales.

In the animated short category, two Canadian films were in contention. But both titles, Dimanche-Sunday and Wild Life, lost to an American entry, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which the filmmakers themselves said was made “by two swamp rats from Louisiana.”

In the two screenplay categories, things unfolded as expected with Alexander Payne’s The Descendants winning for best adapted screenplay and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris earning the award for best original screenplay. Allen, of course, was not there to take home his trophy — as usual.

Oscar also loves to tease. While it turned into the night of The Artist, the first two awards of the night both went to Martin Scorsese’s lavish Hugo, a love letter to the history of cinema.

Hugo, a technical marvel, ended up winning a clutch of craft categories, including for best cinematography, art direction, sound mixing and sound editing and visual effects.

The Artist took the Oscar for best score. That meant that a Canadian composer — three-time Oscar winner Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings) — failed to add to his haul. This year, he was nominated for Hugo.

The makeup award — no surprise — went to The Iron Lady for the transformation of Streep into former British prime minister Maggie Thatcher.

The Oscar in the best documentary feature category — which went to the high school football movie Undefeated — also triggered the second F-bomb in Oscar history, this time from one of the eager young men involved, T.J. Martin. Last year, best supporting actress winner Melissa Leo dropped the first one. Martin apologized backstage for the slip-up, which he put down to enthusiasm.

Much cleaner was Gore Verbinski’s sweet acceptance speech for Rango, cited as the best animated feature. He admitted that animated movies are made by adults acting like children.