Meryl Streep picked up the third Oscar of her career on a night when Hollywood made a big noise about silent film The Artist.
The film- a tribute to the world of black and white silent cinema that disappeared with the arrival of sound - won five awards including best picture, best actor and director.
Its director, Michel Hazanavicius, paid tribute to his wife - and one of the film's stars - Berenice Bejo who lost out on the supporting actress award to Octavia Spencer.
Earlier he had picked up the best director award from Fatal Attraction star Michael Douglas and thanked the film's cast including Uggie the Dog, adding: "I think he doesn't care, I'm not sure he understands me."
The best actress Oscar was presented by Colin Firth to Streep whom he described as "unreasonably good" in her role as former prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. The actress joked she could hear "half of America going 'Oh no'" when her name was read out.
Two other popular winners were Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer who picked up the supporting actor and actress gongs respectively.
Plummer, who at 82 is the oldest actor ever to win an Oscar, held up his statuette and said: "You're only two years older than me darling, where have you been all my life?"
A clearly emotional Spencer accepted her award from Welsh-born actor Christian Bale for her role in The Help. Fighting back the tears, she ended by saying: "I'm sorry I'm freaking out."
Natalie Portman presented the best actor award to Jean Dujardin for The Artist. The French star told the audience "I love your country".
Another ode to old Hollywood, Martin Scorsese's 3D Hugo also picked up five awards but in technical categories including cinematography and art direction. The award for adapted screenplay went to the George Clooney film, The Descendants, while Woody Allen won the original screenplay Oscar for Midnight in Paris.