(CBS/AP) Updated 12:24 a.m. ET
Academy Awards voters have spoken up for "The Artist," the first silent film to triumph on Hollywood's biggest night since the original Oscar ceremony 83 years ago.
The black-and-white film picked up five awards in all, including best picture, actor for Jean Dujardin and directing for Michel Hazanavicius. The last time a silent film earned the top prize was when the World War I saga "Wings" was named outstanding picture at the first Oscars in 1929.
"I am the happiest director in the world," Havanavicius said, thanking the cast, crew and canine co-star Uggie. "I also want to thank the financier, the crazy person who put money in the movie."
The other top Oscars went to Meryl Streep as best actress for "The Iron Lady," Octavia Spencer as supporting actress for "The Help" and Christopher Plummer as supporting actor for "Beginners."
Streep's win was her first Oscar in 29 years, since she won best actress for "Sophie's Choice." She had lost 13 times in a row since then. Streep also won a supporting-actress Oscar for 1979's "Kramer vs. Kramer," and has earned a total of 17 nominations.
The win puts her in a category with other three-time Oscar winners Jack Nicholson, Walter Brennan and Ingrid Bergman. Only Katharine Hepburn - with four wins - had more.
"When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America go, 'Oh, no, why her again?' But whatever," Streep said, laughing.
"I really understand I'll never be up here again," she continued. "I really want to think all my colleagues, my friends. I look out here and I see my life before my eyes, my old friends, my new friends. Really, this is such a great honor but the think that counts the most with me is the friendship and the love and the sheer job we've shared making moves together."
Plummer became the oldest Oscar winner in history during the ceremony, winning for his role as an elderly widower who comes out as gay in "Beginners."
"You're only two years older than me, darling," the 82-year-old actor he crooned to his statuette at the 84th Academy Awards. "Where have you been all my life?"
Plummer and Spencer dominated the supporting actor and actress categories at previous award shows this season, and were considered virtual locks for their Oscars.
Spencer, who played a headstrong black maid in 1960s Mississippi, wept throughout her breathless speech, in which she apologized, between laughing and crying, for running a bit long on her time limit.
"Thank you, Academy, for putting me with the hottest guy in the room," Spencer said, referring to last year's supporting-actor winner Christian Bale, who presented her award.
Dujardin became the first Frenchman to win an acting Oscar. French actresses have won before, including Marion Cotillard and Juliette Binoche.
"Oh, thank you. Oui. I love your country!" said Dujardin, who plays George Valentin, a silent-film star who falls on hard times when talking films take over. If Valentin could speak, Dujardin added, "he'd say ... 'Merci beaucoup, formidable!"'
Martin Scorsese's Paris adventure "Hugo", which led contenders with 11 nominations, won five Oscars, including the first two prizes of the night, for cinematography and art direction. It also won for visual effects, sound mixing and sound editing.
The visual-effects prize had been the last chance for the "Harry Potter" franchise to win an Oscar. The finale, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," had been nominated for visual effects and two other Oscars but lost all three. Previous "Harry Potter" installments had lost on all nine of their nominations.
While "The Boy Who Lived" didn't strike Oscar gold, another beloved big-screen bunch, the Muppets, finally got their due. "The Muppets" earned the best-song award for "Man or Muppet," the sweet comic duet sung by Jason Segel and his Muppet brother in the film, the first big-screen adventure in 12 years for Kermit the frog and company.
"I grew up in New Zealand watching the Muppets on TV. I never dreamed I'd get to work with them," said "Man or Muppet" writer Bret McKenzie of the musical comedy duo "Flight of the Conchords," who joked about meeting Kermit for the first time. "Like many stars here tonight, he's a lot shorter in real life."
Filmmaker Alexander Payne picked up his second writing Oscar, sharing the adapted-screenplay prize for the Hawaiian family drama "The Descendants" with co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Payne, who also directed "The Descendants," previously won the same award for "Sideways."
Payne said he brought his mother to the ceremony, and that she had demanded a shout-out if he made it onstage.
"She made me promise that if I ever won another Oscar I had to dedicate it to her just like Javier Bardem did with his Oscar. So mom, this one's for you. Thank you for letting me skip nursery school so we could go to the movies."
Woody Allen earned his first Oscar in 25 years, winning for original screenplay for the romantic fantasy "Midnight in Paris," his biggest hit in decades. It's the fourth Oscar for Allen, who won for directing and screenplay on his 1977 best-picture winner "Annie Hall" and for screenplay on 1986's "Hannah and Her Sisters."
No fan of awards shows, Allen predictably skipped Sunday's ceremony, where he also was up for best director and "Midnight in Paris" was competing for best picture.
"Rango," with Johnny Depp providing the voice of a desert lizard that becomes a hero to a parched Western town, won for best animated feature, while Iran's "A Separation" won for foreign language film. "Undefeated," a portrait of an underdog high school football team, won for documentary feature.
Billy Crystal got the ceremony off to a lively start with a star-laden montage in which he hung out with Justin Bieber and got a wet kiss from George Clooney. Back as Oscar host for the ninth time, Crystal also did his signature introduction of the best-picture nominees with a goofy song.