“The Artist,” a love letter to Hollywood, got hugs, kisses and the best-picture Oscar on Sunday at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony here. The film also took the awards for best actor and best director, in a minisweep that found the movie industry paying tribute to not just the movie but to its own roots as well.
“I want to thank Billy Wilder, I want to thank Billy Wilder and I want to thank Billy Wilder,” said Michel Hazanavicius, the film’s director, in keeping with a self-referential theme that ruled the evening.
Thomas Langmann, the producer, accepting his award for a mostly silent, black-and-white fable about an actor’s struggle with the end of silent film, said the achievement was dedicated to his father, the deceased French director Claude Berri.
Until Sunday no silent film had won the top Oscar since“Wings,” at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. But nostalgia ruled the night, as “Hugo,” about another silent star, Georges Méliès, won a string of less prominent awards, and “Midnight in Paris,” a comic time trip to Paris in the 1920s, took the prize for original screenplay for Woody Allen.
Meryl Streep, a winner for her portrayal of a doddering Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” made her victory look like a shock. But she hadn’t won since 1983, even though she reigns as the actor with the most nominations in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with 17 in all. Ms. Streep said she could imagine half of America gasping: “Oh no! Oh, come on! Why her? Again?” as her name was read.
When the only surprise is a victory by Ms. Streep, you know things are going by the script. Viola Davis, for her work in “The Help,” had been considered a strong candidate as the best-actress winner.
“Merci, beaucoup, I love you!” shouted Jean Dujardin, as he picked up his award as best actor for a movie that was conceived in France, but showered its adoration on the Hollywood of yore.
After a dry spell in the early evening, “The Artist” gained momentum as the major awards were presented, beginning with a prize for Mr. Hazanavicius. The winner unscrolled a long string of French-accented “thank yous” that included Uggie the dog.