On an evening when American movies reclaimed the Academy Awards, it was fitting that the final, most important envelope was opened in the White House. • With an assist from Jack Nicholson at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre, first lady Michelle Obama announced the academy's selection of Argo as the best picture of 2012.
Argo won three Oscars overall, including adapted screenplay and film editing, and became the first best picture winner since Driving Miss Daisy in 1990 to win the top Oscar without its director being nominated.
Ben Affleck continued accepting that snub with grace, thanking academy members for what they gave him instead.
"I want to thank them for what they've taught me," Affleck said, "which is that you have to work harder than you thought you possibly can ... and it doesn't matter how you get knocked down because that's going to happen. All that matters is that you get back up."
Best actress winner Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) knew what Affleck meant, after tripping over her flowing gown as she climbed steps to the stage. The crowd greeted her with a standing ovation, which she quickly dismissed as simple kindness.
"You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell," Lawrence said, "and that's really embarrassing but thank you."
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) became the first to win three Oscars in the best actor category. Nicholson and Walter Brennan also collected three Oscars but at least one was in the best supporting actor category. Meryl Streep and Ingrid Bergman have three Oscars each to their credit, one each in the supporting category. Katharine Hepburn leads all thespians with four Oscars, all in leading roles.
Ever charming in award-accepting circumstances, Day-Lewis began his remarks by joking that presenter Streep was director Steven Spielberg's first choice to portray the 16th president. He later gave thanks to Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner and "the mysteriously beautiful mind, body and spirit of Abraham Lincoln."
Life of Pi won four Oscars to lead all films, paced by Ang Lee's best director award. The musical Les Miserables tied Argo with three wins.
First-time Oscars host Seth MacFarlane tiptoed the line between crass and classy, displaying equal measures of Family Guy humor — name-checking women who exposed breasts in movies — and respect for vintage Hollywood, dancing soft-shoe with actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe, and crooning The Way You Look Tonight while Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron performed an Astaire-Rogers routine.
Award presentations began with a minor surprise when Christoph Waltz was named best supporting actor for his portrayal of bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained.
Waltz, 56, used his acceptance speech to praise Django Unchained's creator Quentin Tarantino, using his Oscar winning screenplay's words:
"You scaled the mountain because you are not afraid of it. You slay the dragon because you're not afraid of it, and you cross through fire because it was worth it.
"I borrowed my character's words. Sorry, I couldn't resist."
Waltz won the same category three years ago for playing a sadistic Nazi commander in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.
Anne Hathaway was named 2012's best supporting actress for playing Les Miserables' Fantine, a 19th century factory worker forced into prostitution in order to support her infant daughter, still a contemporary issue as she noted while concluding her on-stage remarks.
"Here's hoping that someday in the not-too-distant future the misfortunes of Fantine will only be found in stories and not in real life," she said.
Whatever Hathaway's role lacked in screen time – barely a half-hour of the movie's 158-minute length – it compensated with emotional heft and her skill of singing "live" while acting rather than lip-synching. That strategy led to Les Miserables' Oscar for best sound mixing.
Disney enterprises swept the animation categories with the monochromatic, wordless romance Paperman voted best animated short. Brave, the adventures of a Scottish princess co-produced with Pixar Animation Studios, was named best animated feature. Co-director Mark Andrews accepted his statuette appropriately clad in a kilt. "I just happened to be wearing this," he said.
Voting in the sound editing category resulted in the third tie in Academy Awards history, between Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall. The only previous ties occurred in lead acting categories: Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand in 1968, and Wallace Beery and Fredric March in 1932.
Best documentary feature honors went to Searching for Sugar Man, chronicling the efforts of two South African fans to discover the fate of Rodriguez, a Detroit rock-and-roll singer who faded into obscurity in the 1970s. His whereabouts aren't mysterious these days: Rodriguez is scheduled to perform in concert at Tampa's Straz Center for the Performing Arts on May 9.
Overnight Nielsen ratings for the program will be released today, giving the academy and advertisers insight into financial success. Sponsors paid upwards of $2 million per 30-second spot.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected]