‘The Artist’ Wins Top Oscar Honors in Bow to Silent Films

The Artist Wins Top Oscar Honors in Bow to Silent-Movie Era
Director Michel Hazanavicius, left, actress Berenice Bejo, center, and Producer Thomas Langmann pose with Oscars for winning Best Picture for "The Artist." Photographer: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

“The Artist,” a black-and-white film with just a few words of dialog, won Oscars for best picture, director and actor as Hollywood continued to honor smaller-budget films.

Michel Hazanavicius captured best director for the mostly silent film and Jean Dujardin was honored as best actor for playing George Valentin, an aging film star unable to make it in talking pictures. Meryl Streep won best actress for playing Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” The Oscars were handed out last night at the 84th Academy Awards, hosted by Billy Crystal, at the Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles.

As in past years, academy voters shunned top-grossing films focusing on lower-budget, less-seen movies such as “The Artist,” which cost about $15 million, according to Box Office Mojo, a researcher. Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” which tied “The Artist” with five awards, was the costliest at $170 million.

“When people love the movie, it’s not very difficult, because you’re not selling, you’re not promoting,” said Hazanavicius backstage. “You just smile and say, ‘thank you.’”

Streep, 62, captured her third Oscar for her portrayal of Thatcher, the former British prime minister. Her 17 lifetime nominations are tops for the industry, according to the academy’s database. Streep’s win was among the few upsets, based on betting lines from Paddy Power Plc, a British oddsmaker.

“It was like I was a kid again,” Streep said backstage. “I understand Streep fatigue, and it shocked me it didn’t override this thing tonight.”

Box Office

Of nine films nominated for best picture, “The Help” from DreamWorks Studios and Walt Disney Co. leads among fans with $206.7 million in worldwide ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. “Hugo” has collected $115.8 million in worldwide ticket sales and “The Artist” has taken in $76.5 million.

With the Oscar, “The Artist” became the second silent film to win best picture. “Wings” was crowned outstanding picture at the first Academy Awards on May 16, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, steps from this year’s ceremony. “The Artist” was shot in Los Angeles.

“They must be going nuts in France right now,” Crystal said after the award for the 39-year-old Frenchman Dujardin.

The picture produced five awards for Weinstein Co., the closely held New York-based studio that distributed “The Artist” in the U.S. “Hugo” generated five Oscars for Viacom Inc.’s Paramount, which also grabbed best animated feature for “Rango.”

First Oscar

Christopher Plummer, 82, became the oldest Oscar winner for his role in the film “Beginners,” about a man who comes out as gay late in life. Octavia Spencer won best-supporting actress for her role as the sharp-tongued housemaid Minny Jackson in “The Help,” about the sometimes-tense relationship between black maids and the white women who employ them.

The nomination was Plummer’s second in more than 40 years of acting and his only win. The film, from Universal Pictures’ Focus Features, stars Ewan McGregor and took in $14.3 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

“When I first emerged from my mother’s womb, I was already rehearsing my academy speech,” Plummer said.

Scorsese’s “Hugo” won Oscars for best cinematography, art direction, sound mixing, sound editing and visual effects. “The Artist” also won for best costume design and best original score.

Paris Station

The director’s first 3-D movie, “Hugo” tells the story of an orphaned boy who lives secretly within the walls and clock tower of a Paris train station. The film stars Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz and Ben Kingsley. Scorsese captured the Golden Globe award for directing for the film.

Woody Allen was honored for best original screenplay for “Midnight in Paris,” about a writer who goes back in time to meet Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. Owen Wilson played the lead role of the writer Gil.

“A Separation,” from Iran, won the Oscar for best foreign language film. Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, the movie centers on a couple deciding whether to divorce. The best documentary feature Oscar was awarded to “Undefeated,” which follows players on an inner-city high school football team in Tennessee.

This year’s ceremony marked the return of actor Crystal as host, after Eddie Murphy and producer Brett Ratner quit in November amid criticism over controversial remarks Ratner made about gays.

Boost Box-Office

The awards come against the backdrop of a tough 2011 at home for Hollywood, with theater attendance falling 5.3 percent to a 16-year low and spending on home-video shrinking 2.1 percent, according to Hollywood.com and the Digital Entertainment Group, a studio-backed trade association.

Best-picture nominations and the publicity that follows boost box-office and home-video sales for Oscar contenders. Ticket sales for last year’s winner, “The King’s Speech” rose 41 percent on the first weekend after its nomination.

The Oscar show, which often ranks as the most-watched single, non-sports telecast, attracted 39.3 million viewers, an increase of 3.7 percent from the 37.9 million viewers last year, according to ABC, which cited Nielsen data.