The 85th Academy Awards promised lots of upsets and surprises, and they delivered.
The night’s big winner was Argo, the fact-based drama about a mission in which the CIA teamed up with Hollywood producers for a rescue during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Although the film received seven nominations, it was initially discounted as a serious contender because its director Ben Affleck was not nominated.
But the picture began racking awards from industry and critics’ groups and wound up winning three big Oscars, including Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay. In an unusual move, Jack Nicholson recounted the titles of the nominees in the main prize in the company of First Lady Michelle Obama, who appeared via satellite from the White House to celebrate the importance of the arts and announce the winning film.
And Affleck, who also produced Argo, got his chance to take the stage anyway.
“I know what you’re thinking: The three sexiest producers alive,” said Grant Heslov, standing between his two co-producers, Affleck and George Clooney.
“I want to acknowledge Steven Spielberg who is a genius and a tower among us,” said a visibly thrilled Affleck, who got emotional while thanking his wife Jennifer Garner.
“I was here 10 years ago and I really didn’t know what I was doing,” Affleck said of his previous Oscar win for co-writing Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon. “I was just a kid. And I am [back], because so many people extended themselves to me when I couldn’t get a job. It doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life. All that matters is that you have to get up.”
Argo is only the fourth in Oscar history to win the big prize without a Best Director nomination.
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln headed into the night with the most nominations — 12 — but the film wound up winning only two Oscars, including Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis, whose performance as the 16th President was an uncanny bit of acting that helped turn a talky historical drama into a commercial and critical hit.
“I really don’t know how any of this happened. I do know that I received more than my share of good fortune in my life,” said Day-Lewis, who became the first actor to win this category three times. The actor joked that Meryl Streep had been Spielberg’s first choice to play Lincoln. “I’d like to see that version.”
Ang Lee’s visually groundbreaking Life of Pi won four Oscars, including Best Director for Ang Lee. This marks the second time the filmmaker has won this category without a Best Picture prize to match (the first was 2005’s Brokeback Mountain).
A breathless Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress for her portrayal of a mentally unbalanced widow in the cracked romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook — the film’s only win out of eight nominations.
Another surprise was Christoph Waltz’s victory in the Supporting Actor race for his performance as the loquacious bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (this is Waltz’s second Oscar in the category; he previously won for another Tarantino film, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds).
“We participated in a hero’s journey — the hero here being Quentin,” Waltz said in reference to the controversy that surrounded the film’s graphic depiction of slavery. “You scaled the mountain because you’re not afraid of it. You slayed the dragon because you’re not afraid of it, and you crossed the fire because it’s worth it. I borrowed my character’s words: Sorry, I couldn’t resist here.”
Tarantino also made it to the podium in yet another upset of the night, winning Original Screenplay for Django Unchained.
“I think if people know about my movies 30 or 50 years from now, it’s because of the characters that I create,” said Tarantino, who previously won an Oscar in this category for Pulp Fiction. “And I only really get one chance to get it right. I have to cast the right people to make those characters come alive and hopefully live for a long time. And boy this time, did I get it right.”
As expected, Anne Hathaway won Supporting Actress for her portrayal of the doomed Fantine in Les Misérables.
“It came true!” Hathaway said as she took the stage and thanked her fellow nominees. “Here’s hoping that some day in the not too distant future, the misfortunes of Fantine will only be found in stories and nevermore in real life.”
Michael Haneke’s devastating Amour, the story of a married couple confronting the indignities of old age and sickness, won the Foreign Language prize as expected, becoming the second film from Austria to win in the category (the first was 2008’s The Counterfeiters).
Searching for Sugar Man, the gripping tale about the disappearance of 1970s folk singer Rodriguez, who was rumored to have committed suicide onstage during his final performance, won for Best Documentary. The wizards at Pixar Animation Studios won their seventh Oscar for Best Animated Feature with Brave, the story of the relationship between a young princess and her mother.
Adele’s Skyfall won the Original Song category — the first time a theme song from a James Bond movie has snagged the prize.
For the third time in Oscar history, one category ended in a tie: Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall shared the Sound Editing award. Previously, Wallace Beery ( The Champ) and Frederic March ( Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) tied for Best Actor in 1932 and Katharine Hepburn ( A Lion in Winter) and Barbra Streisand ( Funny Girl) tied for Best Actress in 1968.
Streisand also made a rare appearance at the show to pay tribute to the late composer Marvin Hamlisch, who died in August, by performing The Way We Were, which won him an Oscar for Original Song in 1973.
The telecast was hosted by Seth MacFarlane, creator of TV’s Family Guy . MacFarlane’s edgy brand of humor made for an uneven unopening: His performance of a song called We Saw Your Boobs, which called out specific actresses by name, went over like a funeral. But he regained his footing with classy musical numbers featuring Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron dancing to The Way You Look Tonight from Swing Time.