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'The Artist', 'Hugo' Dominate; Streep Surprises At 84th Academy Awards

— Jenn McBride,

HOLLYWOOD (CBS) — For the first time since the show's inception in 1929, a silent film won Best Picture Sunday night at the 84th Academy Awards.

The Artist's Jean Dujardin also became the first Frenchman to be named Best Actor for his role as George Valentin, a burgeoning movie star who plunges into the depths of despair after he refuses to acknowledge that the future of filmmaking resides in so-called talkies.

Brunette bombshell Peppy Miller and Valentin's beloved Jack Russell Terrier ultimately save his life and the three of them return to the big screen, where they reign supreme, both in the film and now among Hollywood's elite.

"I love your country," an ecstatic Dujardin shouted onstage before cursing in his native tongue. "And if George Valentin could speak, he'd say… [French]. Merci beaucoup. I love you!"

The sentiment is obviously mutual. Dujardin, Best Supporting Actress nominee Bérénice Bejo, and precious 10-year-old Uggie captured the hearts of Academy members, who honored the $15 million black-and-white film with five awards.

In fact, Bejo's husband, Michel Hazanavicius, took home the prize for Best Directing, beating out Martin Scorsese and his 3D masterpiece, Hugo, which also received five of the 11 awards for which it was nominated.

The $150 million-plus film also chronicles the plight of a depressed ex-filmmaker, who is played by Sir Ben Kingsley. Georges Méliès once again finds joy when Hugo Cabret, an orphaned boy squatting in the clock tower of a Paris train station, helps him revisit his illustrious past.

History was made when 82-year-old Christopher Plummer became the oldest actor to earn an Oscar for his performance as a gay father who dies of cancer in Beginners.

"You're only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?" the Best Supporting Actor winner immediately asked his shiny new statuette.

The Sound of Music and Cyrano de Bergerac star also announced he has no plans to give up his craft.

"I hope I can do it for another ten years at least," Plummer said backstage. "I'm going to drop dead wherever I am, on stage or on the set. We don't retire in our profession, thank God."

A visibly shocked Meryl Streep, who has been nominated for a record 17 Academy Awards, took home her third Best Actress award for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Viola Davis had been heavily favored to win for her role as Aibileen Clark in The Help, but Streep is now just one trophy away from tying Katharine Hepburn with four wins.

"I thought I was so old and jaded, but they call your name, and you just go into sort of a, I don't know, a white light. And it was just thrilling. It was like I was a kid again," Streep said after the show. "I mean, I was a kid when I won this, like, 30 years ago. Two of the nominees were not even conceived. So, you know, it was great."

Best Supporting Actress winner, Octavia Spencer, who plays sassy maid Minny Jackson in The Help, also explained why she thanked Stephen Spielberg for changing her life during her short yet emotional acceptance speech.

"Well, Steven Spielberg is a luminary and as far as I can remember in filmmaking, he, in every decade of my life, has been creating brilliance. And he has this little studio called DreamWorks that could have put any zaftig actress with acting chops in my role, but he allowed my dear friend, Tate Taylor, to cast me pretty much unknown to most of you in that role when there were so many others that could have been chosen."

Similarly, several films were worthy, but The Artist was the Academy's chosen one, proving that silence (at least this year) truly is golden.

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