PHILADELPHIA-Hollywood celebrated itself, and its history, Sunday night as the 84th Academy Awards made lots of noise about the first silent movie to be nominated for best picture since 1928, and as Octavia Spencer won the supporting-actress prize in the earliest of the evening's major awards.
A first-time Oscar nominee, Spencer won for her scene-stealing performance as a feisty and acerbic Mississippi maid in the popular Civil Rights-era weepie, "The Help." She accepted the prize happily, and tearfully.
Christopher Plummer won the supporting actor Oscar, winning for his performance in "Beginners" as a father who comes out of the closet late in his life. The veteran actor accepted the much-deserved prize with a gracious nod to his competition in the category, which included the also-82-year-old Max von Sydow.
Plummer held his Oscar aloft and quipped, "You're only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?"
Moviedom's betuxed and begowned luminaries stepped off the red carpet and into a remade, and rechristened, movie palace _ the Hollywood and Highland Center, known until just this week as the Kodak _ to bathe in a glamorous retro glow. (Kodak is in bankruptcy, and gave up its naming rights for the theater, which emcee Billy Crystal dubbed "the beautiful Chapter 11 Theatre.")
With best picture contenders "The Artist," "Hugo," "Midnight in Paris" and "War Horse" all steeped in nostalgia, and with the Oscars venue dressed up to resemble a grand, old-fashioned bijou, the evening's ceremony was as much a loving look back through decades of movie-making as it was a salute to the movies of 2011, some still playing in the multiplexes, others streaming and just out on DVD.
Kicking off the night of kudos, Crystal, hosting the Academy Awards telecast for the ninth time, inserted himself into a montage of clip mock-offs, and offered his traditional song-and-dance medley honoring (kind of) this year's nine best picture nominees.
The first of the night's Academy Awards went to Robert Richardson for the eye-popping 3-D cinematography on Martin Scorsese's best picture nominee, the children's fantasy "Hugo." "Hugo" also pocketed early prizes for art direction, sound editing and mixing, taking an early lead.
Capping an improbable awards season run (and nabbing best picture, best actor and other top prizes at the Independent Spirit Awards held on Oscar eve), "The Artist" entered the evening as the best-picture favorite, taking an early Oscar for costume design. Since its debut last spring at the Cannes Film Festival, writer/director Michel Hazanavicius' vibrant valentine to 1920s Hollywood has won just about every major movie award and critics group prize, charming audiences with its evocation of vintage melodranmas and musicals. The eight competing best-picture nominees were "The Descendants," "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," "The Help," "Hugo," "Midnight in Paris," "Moneyball," "The Tree of Life" and "War Horse."
"A Separation," an Iranian drama about a couple lost in a tumult of domestic and moral concerns, won the Oscar for best foreign-language film. It was the first foreign-language Academy Award for a film from the troubled middle eastern country. Asghar Farhadi, the film's director, also was nominated in the best original-screenplay category.
Jean Dujardin, who stars in "The Artist" as a silent-era screen idol struggling to make the transition to talkies, had the best-actor statuette in his sights. It's the comedic actor's first nomination. But George Clooney _ who delivers a funny, sad, nuanced performance as a father struggling with family tragedy and Hawaiian real estate woes in "The Descendants" _ also was viewed as strong contender. This was Clooney's fourth Oscar nomination for acting, and seventh overall. (Clooney is also nominated for a screenplay Oscar, for his work on "The Ides of March.") Demian Bichir ("A Better Life"), Brad Pitt ("Moneyball") and Gary Oldman ("Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy") rounded out the category.
Viola Davis' quiet, forceful turn in "The Help" as a courageous maid coping with racism in the early-1960s South has brought the actress accolades and honors, and the presumptive winning slot in the best-actress race. It's Davis' second Oscar nomination _ her first, for supporting actress, was for "Doubt," in which she costarred opposite her main competition Sunday night: Meryl Streep. With more nominations _ 17 _ than any actor in Academy history, Streep was in the hunt for the same prize her decades-spanning portrait of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." The last time Streep took home an Oscar was 29 years ago, for "Sophie's Choice."
The other actress in a leading role candidates: Glenn Close ("Albert Nobbs"), Rooney Mara ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") and Michelle Williams ("My Week with Marilyn").
Walking onto the stage of the theater-formerly-known-as-Kodak in the show's opening minutes, Morgan Freeman promised a night that looked back at movies' "glorious past."