It was an evening of few surprises, yet Oscar history was made more than once at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles last night.
Daniel Day-Lewis cemented his status as the pre-eminent film actor of this or any generation, by taking home a record third Academy Award for Best Actor, for his performance as America’s 16th President in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. "I really don't know how any of this happened. I do know I've received much more than my fair share of good fortune in my life," he said.
The First Lady, Michelle Obama, then appeared from the White House to name Ben Affleck’s Argo Best Picture, capping an extraordinary awards season for the actor-turned-director, whose drama about the Iranian hostage crisis was also garlanded at the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes. Affleck won his first Oscar in 1998 for his Good Will Hunting screenplay, written with Matt Damon. He then endured almost a decade of flops and critical derision before making his comeback behind the camera. Accepting the prize for Best Picture last night, he said, “Doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life; all that matters is you’ve got to get up.”
Argo also became the only the fourth film to win the Academy’s top prize without a corresponding nomination in the directing category, after Affleck was controversially omitted from the shortlist. That left Ang Lee to pick up his second Oscar for Best Director, for his adaptation of Yann Martell’s Booker Prize-winning novel Life of Pi.
Lee’s film was the ceremony’s most prolific winner, taking four Oscars in total, but it was a night that rewarded many titles, with the eight major categories divided among six separate films. Quentin Tarantino’s slavery-based western Django Unchained triumphed in the Best Original Screenplay category, while one of its stars, Christoph Waltz, claimed his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Jennifer Lawrence was named Best Actress for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook; at 22, she is one of the award’s youngest ever recipients. The Best Supporting Actress category also went according to form, with Anne Hathaway picking up the gong for her turn in Les Misérables.
The big loser of the night was Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which began the awards season as a heavyweight contender, but was undone by controversy over its scenes of torture used to gather intelligence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Posterity is likely to treat Bigelow’s film more kindly than the Academy, which awarded Zero Dark Thirty just one Oscar, for Sound Editing, which it shared with Skyfall.
That was only the sixth tie in Oscar history. It was also the first award for a film in the Bond franchise since Thunderball won in the Special Visual Effects category in 1966. Skyfall went on to win a second Oscar, as Adele added to her nine Grammys and four Brits with an Academy Award for Best Original song, which she accepted alongside her “Skyfall” co-writer, Paul Epworth.
The ceremony was masterminded by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, executive producers of 2002’s Best Picture winner Chicago, and featured vocal performances from a succession of stars, including Adele, Dame Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Hudson and Russell Crowe.