(NBC TODAY)- Vive la France! Vive la ... silent black-and-white movies?
"The Artist" was expected to win a number of the major Academy Awards Sunday night in Los Angeles, and the French, mostly silent, mostly black-and-white film did just that. It claimed the golden statuettes for best picture, best director, best actor and even best costume design and best score.
Jean Dujardin, acclaimed in his native France but little-known in America, won the best actor honor for his role as a silent-film actor who can't adjust to talkies. "I love your country!" he exclaimed upon reaching the stage.
"Artist" director Michel Hazanavicius claimed the best director award. His wife, Berenice Bejo, stars in the film and was nominated for best supporting actress, but lost to Octavia Spencer in "The Help."
"I am the happiest director in the world right now. Thank you for that," Hazanavicius said.
The early awards were handed out mostly as many had predicted, with Dujardin, Spencer and Christopher Plummer claiming acting awards.
But then came the best actress category, one many expected to go to Viola Davis for her role in "The Help." Instead, Meryl Streep's name was called for her role as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady."
Video: Watch Streep's backstage interview
"When they called my name I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, 'Oh no! Oh, come on! Why her? Again?' But whatever," the star joked.
"The Iron Lady," which ages Streep from a young Thatcher to a woman in her 80s, also won the Oscar for makeup.
Spencer claimed the best supporting actresss Oscar for her role as a maid in "The Help." Her tearful acceptance speech thanked the Academy for pairing her with "the hottest guy in the room," as she cradled her trophy. The announcement of her win was greeted with a standing ovation.
She is the fifth African-American woman to ever win the honor.
Plummer, 82, set a record as the oldest man or woman ever to win an acting Oscar when he won the best supporting actor Oscar for his role as a homosexual man coming out of the closet in "Beginners."
"You're only two years older than me, darling, where have you been all my life?" Plummer asked his Oscar statuette.
Plummer's career spans over six decades, and he is perhaps best remembered for playing Captain Von Trapp in 1965's "The Sound of Music."
Bret McKenzie of "Flight of the Conchords" fame won the best original song Oscar for "Man or Muppet" from "The Muppets." He said he grew up in New Zealand watching the Muppets and was thrilled to work with them. He also thanked the late Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, saying "it's a true honor to work in the shadow of such legends."
Slideshow: Oscars red carpet
George Clooney leads the early charge as the big stars step out for the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood.
Woody Allen, who's famous for not attending the Academy Awards, won the best original screenplay Oscar for "Midnight in Paris," in a pick that was a surprise to many who expected "The Artist" to claim that honor.
Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" was the most nominated film of the night, with 11 nominations. It claimed five technical awards, winning for cinematography, art direction, sound editing, sound mixing, and best visual effects.
"The Descendants" won for best adapted screenplay.
"Undefeated," about an underdog high-school football team, won for best documentary feature. The filmmakers used their speech to apologize to a friend who had told them they'd win a year ago, saying they were sorry for calling him an idiot. Filmmaker TJ Martin was bleeped for calling the win "f------ awesome," but later said "we meant no offense."
"Rango," with Johnny Depp voicing a chameleon who saves a town in the Old West, won for best animated feature film.
The best animated short film award went to "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore."
Celebrities from Angelina Jolie to Robert Downey Jr. and beyond gather to honor and celebrate the best films of Hollywood.
"The Shore," from a father-daughter team, won for best live-action short film.
The best documentary feature award went to "Saving Face," about women in Pakistan who undergo surgery after being attacked with acid.
"A Separation," Iran's entry in the foreign-language film category, won that Oscar.
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" won for film editing.
The show led off with a montage inserting host Billy Crystal into various nominated movies. He discussed the show with the scouts from "Moneyball," ate the tainted pie from "The Help," and greeted Justin Bieber instead of famous authors in a spoof of "Midnight in Paris."
Noticeable audio feedback from the main presenter's microphone was audible throughout the show, and criticized by many fans on Twitter and in Internet posts.
Early buzz on the red carpet was all about Sacha Baron Cohen, who was allowed to come in costume as Admiral General Aladeen from his upcoming movie "The Dictator." Not only did he come in costume, but Baron Cohen brought an urn, joking that it contained the ashes of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, and then dumped the urn's contents on E! red carpet host Ryan Seacrest.
In other news, actress Halle Berry, who was scheduled to present at the awards, sent word she cannot attend after she injured her foot chasing her daughter, who was chasing a goat, in Majorca.