Meryl Streep picked up the third Oscar of her career on a night when Hollywood made a big noise about a silent film.
The Artist - a tribute to the world of black and white silent cinema that disappeared with the arrival of sound - won five awards including best picture, best actor and director.
Its director, Michel Hazanavicius, paid tribute to his wife - and one of the film's stars - Berenice Bejo who lost out on the supporting actress award to Octavia Spencer. Speaking after the film's cast and crew went up to accept the best picture award, he told Bejo: "You inspired the movie and you're the soul of the movie and the positive feeling of the movie. Thank you for being in the movie and in my life".
Earlier he had picked up the best director award from Fatal Attraction star Michael Douglas and thanked the film's cast including Uggie the Dog, adding: "I think he doesn't care, I'm not sure he understands me."
The best actress Oscar was presented by Colin Firth to Streep whom he described as "unreasonably good" in her role as former prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. The actress joked she could hear "half of America going 'Oh no'" when her name was read out before thanking her husband, Don Gummer, and also her long-time colleague, J Roy Helland, who picked up the make-up award earlier in the night for his work on the film.
Two other popular winners were Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer who picked up the supporting actor and actress gongs respectively. Plummer, who at 82 is the oldest actor ever to win an Oscar, held up his statuette and said: "You're only two years older than me darling, where have you been all my life?"
Natalie Portman presented the best actor award to Jean Dujardin for The Artist. The French star told the audience "I love your country" and thanked swashbuckling screen idol Douglas Fairbanks Junior for inspiring his role as the silent film hero.
The Artist also picked up awards for costume design and original score. Another ode to old Hollywood, Martin Scorsese's 3D Hugo also picked up five awards but in technical categories including cinematography and art direction.
The award for adapted screenplay went to the George Clooney film, The Descendants, while Woody Allen won the original screenplay Oscar for Midnight in Paris - his tribute to the French capital in the 1920s when it was home to expat-American writers including F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
The show was opened by Morgan Freeman before host Billy Crystal appeared in a spoof showreel based on scenes from nominated films including The Descendants, The Help and The Artist. He then launched into a song based on the films nominated for the best picture Oscar, after joking "Nothing can take the sting out of the world's economic problems like millionaires presenting each other golden statues".