For the second straight year, the movie business fell for itself.
"Argo" — in which a Hollywood producer and makeup artist help engineer the rescue of six Americans from Iran — won the top prize at the 85th Academy Awards, one year after the silent film story "The Artist" took the best picture Oscar.
"I never thought I'd be back here. And I am," producer-director Ben Affleck said in accepting the best picture trophy Sunday night, 15 years after he won an original screenplay Oscar for "Good Will Hunting" and then saw his career fall into a tailspin that included "Gigli" and "Daredevil."
"It doesn't matter how you get knocked down in life. That's going to happen," said Affleck, who wasn't nominated for directing "Argo," one of nine films in the best picture race. "All that matters is that you've got to get up."
"Argo," which became the first movie to win best picture without its director being nominated since 1989's "Driving Miss Daisy," collected two other Academy Awards, for editing and adapted screenplay. But it was not the evening's most recognized film: That honor went to Ang Lee's "Life of Pi," which won four Oscars — for directing, visual effects, cinematography and score.
"Thank you, movie god," said Lee, whose movie came into the evening with 11 nominations, one behind Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln." The film about the 16th president helped Daniel Day-Lewis make movie history, as he became the only man to ever win three lead actor statuettes. "Lincoln" won one other prize, for production design.
The song-and-dance heavy ceremony, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, hewed closely to a traditional awards show script, but there were several surprises. First Lady Michelle Obama, who joined the ABC telecast from the White House, announced "Argo" as the best picture. And the ceremony featured only the sixth tie in Oscar history and the first since 1994, with the sound editing award split between "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Skyfall." For the first time in Oscar history, six best picture nominees were $100-million blockbusters.
The ceremony was billed as a tribute to music in film, and boasted a number of extravagant musical numbers — including a medley of songs from movie musicals and an appearance by Barbra Streisand, who sang "The Way We Were." The telecast also paid homage to the long running James Bond series, with Adele singing the theme from "Skyfall" and Dame Shirley Bassey performing the theme from 1964's "Goldfinger."
Jennifer Lawrence, 22, nabbed the lead actress prize for her role as an emotionally unstable widow in "Silver Linings Playbook" — and promptly tripped over her long dress walking up the stairs to accept her statuette. The crowd quickly gave her a standing ovation. "You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell and that's embarrassing," Lawrence said to the applauding crowd at the Dolby Theatre.
The evening's very first award — for supporting actor — was a shocker, with long shot Christoph Waltz winning for his role as bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" over favored contenders Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook") and Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln"). Waltz, who won the same award three years ago for Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," dedicated his prize to his writer-director, who also won the Oscar for original screenplay. "We participated in a hero's journey — the hero being Quentin," Waltz said.
Tarantino pulled off a mild surprise with the screenplay triumph for his slave-revenge tale. He dedicated his award to his eclectic cast of actors. "I actually think if people know my movies 30-50 years from now it's because of the characters I create," Tarantino said.
Anne Hathaway's supporting actress win for her emotionally raw portrayal of a doomed seamstress in "Les Misérables" was hardly as startling. The 30-year-old had been the odds-on favorite to win since the film first screened for members of the Motion Picture Academy in late November. "It came true," she stage-whispered as she picked up her trophy for her performance, the centerpiece of which is the lament "I Dreamed a Dream."
Some of the evening's wins were bittersweet.
The animated feature Oscar was shared by "Brave" directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, an unusual pairing given that Chapman was fired from the Pixar Animation Studios film and replaced by Andrews in the middle of production. "Making these are a struggle — it's a battle, it's a war," Andrews said backstage. "I was very happy it was him who took my place," Chapman said.
Rhythm & Hues Studios, the company behind "Life of Pi's" visual effects win, recently filed for bankruptcy and laid off hundreds of its employees. As Oscar winner Bill Westenhofer addressed the situation in his acceptance speech, he ran over time and the theme from "Jaws" began to play him off the stage. His microphone was cut off just as he said the words "I urge you all…"
William Goldenberg was a double nominee in the film editing category — he worked on both "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty" — and won the prize for Affleck's CIA drama.
"Working at my father's deli, I had to do a million things at one time," Goldenberg said backstage about the best training for his job. "It really does prepare you for the multitasking it takes to be in an editing room."
Claudio Miranda won the cinematography prize for "Life of Pi." "This movie was a beast to make," he said of the picture, which was largely filmed in a massive water tank.
"Searching for Sugar Man," which chronicled an obscure 1970s American singer-songwriter known as Rodriguez who unknowingly had become a massive star in South Africa, was named top documentary feature.
Adele, who performed "Skyfall" to a standing ovation, won an Oscar for her James Bond theme song
The Oscar for foreign language film went to Austria's "Amour," a film about a husband and wife in the final months of her life.
Costume designer Jacqueline Durran won for her work on "Anna Karenina," and Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell took home the makeup and hairstyling award for their work on "Les Miserables." Director Shawn Christensen claimed the Academy Award for live action short for "Curfew," about a depressed man who is forced to take care of his young niece. Christensen, who also acted in the film, thanked the academy for its support of short films by making them available to its members for the first time on DVD. The animated short award went to Disney's black-and-white "Paperman."
In the documentary short category, Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine won for their film "Inocente" about a young homeless artist living in San Diego. Said Sean Fine: "She's an artist and all of you are artists and we feel like we need to start supporting the arts. They're dying in our communities. We need to stand up and help girls like her be seen and heard."
Times staff writers Chris Lee, Jessica Gelt and Jasmine Elist contributed to this report.