'Artist' turns silence into Oscar gold

Big wins for silent French movie and Meryl Streep

Hollywood showed some love for its history at the Oscars on Sunday, giving its best film award and four others to silent movie The Artist in a ceremony that recalled why cinema is special to so many people.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also gave Oscars to Meryl Streep playing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, marking Streep’s third Academy Award in 17 nominations, and veteran Christopher Plummer made history by becoming the oldest winner ever at age 82 with his role as an elderly gay man in Beginners.

But it was the The Artist, a French movie that has been called a love letter to old Hollywood by its makers, that charmed Oscar voters. Made in the style of old silents, it tells a romantic story of a fading star in the era when silent movies were overtaken by talkies.

The Artist collected Oscars for its star Jean Dujardin and director Michel Hazanavicius, as well as for musical score and costume design.

“I am the happiest director in the world right now. Thank you for that,” Hazanavicius told the audience of stars including George Clooney, Michelle Williams, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and members of the Academy.

Dujardin was equally excited, exclaiming “I love this country” before thanking the Academy, the film’s makers and his wife, and calling silent actor Douglas Fairbanks an inspiration.

Streep’s victory surprised Oscar pundits who thought Viola Davis would win the Academy Award with her portrayal of a black maid in a southern white home in civil rights drama The Help.

But Streep’s turn as an elderly Thatcher who is slipping into dementia was too good to be ignored. It was Streep’s third Academy Award out of 17 nominations, and even she reckoned that Oscar voters would think she’s been there, done that. Backstage she termed it “Streep fatigue” to reporters.

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