Oscars 2012 Belong To ‘The Artist,’ ‘Hugo,’ Meryl Streep

French silent film takes home three major prizes, for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director.

The early word on the 84th annual Academy Awards was that silent movie “The Artist” was going to run the board. Then there were five early wins by Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” in technical awards, and it seemed as if it would be a night of upsets.

But, like an old movie serial that keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end, the throwback to another era in film came on strong and swept three of the four biggies: Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director.

The wins capped a night of celebrating the history of cinema, with the final act providing a perfect topper, as “The Artist” became only the second silent movie in Oscar history to snag the night’s top prize and the first black-and-white one to win Best Picture since “Schindler’s List” in 1994. Joining it in the winner’s circle with five wins was another loving tribute to the wonder of film, Scorsese’s “Hugo.”

After the crash-and-burn that was last year’s younger-demo-seeking combo of James Franco and Anne Hathaway , nine-time emcee Billy Crystal provided some of that same kind of warm-and-fuzzy feeling to his hosting duties as well. After the tumult that resulted in Eddie Murphy dropping out of the gig in November, the veteran comedian did exactly what everyone wanted him to: he sang, he danced, he made bar mitzvah and Hitler jokes, he spoofed the year’s biggest movies and took a lifetime’s worth of shots at Kodak.

Michel Hazanavicius bested Scorsese for Best Director for his work on “The Artist.” Though he claimed to have forgotten his speech, Hazanavicius proclaimed himself the “happiest director in the world” for taking home such a prestigious honor for his anachronistic feature about the culture clash between the old and new when talkies supplanted silent films in the late 1920s.

In addition to shouting out the film’s famous pooch, Uggie , Hazanavicius gave props to the movie itself, saying, “Since this movie has been made, its life is full of grace and it brings to us joy and happiness. Sometimes life is wonderful, and today is one of these days.”

He was joined a short time later by his leading man, Jean Dujardin, who beat out the likes of three-time Best Actor nominee George Clooney, his bromantic pal Brad Pitt and fellow first-time nominees Gary Oldman and Demian Bichir for Best Actor. For a guy who spent an entire movie not talking, Dujardin had a simple message for his legion of new American fans: “I love your country!”

The most nominated actor in Oscar history waited an interminable 30 years between awards, but the 17th time was the charm for Meryl Streep, who snagged her third golden man for disappearing into the role of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” The always entertaining actress moaned, “Oh my God, oh come on!” at the standing ovation, saying she feared that when her name was read, half of America groaned, “Oh no! Her! Again!”

The night’s first Oscar, for Cinematography, suggested that perhaps “The Artist” would not run the board, as it went to Scorsese’s “Hugo.” As did the second, for Art Direction, which went to the husband-and-wife team that made “Hugo” such a rich visual feast for the eyes. Along the way, the movie also picked up the Oscars for Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects .

Best Supporting Actress went to first-time nominee Octavia Spencer for her role in “The Help,” which garnered a standing ovation from the crowd as she struggled to overcome tears in accepting the award for her work as headstrong maid Minny Jackson.

The big night for “The Artist” began with a win for Original Score for untrained composer Ludovic Bource, but it was the cymbal-crashing entrance by Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis that helped make the two-song race in the Best Original Song category a memorable one. “Flight of the Concords” star Bret McKenzie won the marathon for “Man or Muppet,” noting that it was his lifelong dream to meet Kermit the Frog and, like many leading men in Hollywood, he noted that the fuzzy Muppet is “a lot shorter in real life.”

After seven decades in the business, a lithe Christopher Plummer became the oldest actor to ever win an Oscar when he accepted the Supporting Actor statue for his work as a father who comes out to his son after the death of his wife in “Beginners.” Holding up the golden statue, Plummer said, “You’re only two years older than me — where have you been all my life?” joking that he emerged from the womb practicing his thank-you speech.

Though it wasn’t in the running for the biggies, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” didn’t go home empty-handed, as it snagged the Best Editing prize for the same duo who took it home last year for “The Social Network.” The award for Animated Feature went to director Gore Verbinski, who took home his first Oscar for “Rango.”

Director Alexander Payne took home his second Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his collaboration on the script to “The Descendants,” while a typically absent Woody Allen will get his Original Screenplay statue in the mail for “Midnight in Paris.”

The MTV Movies team has the 2012 Oscars covered! Keep it locked at MTV.com all night and beyond for updates on the night’s big winners and the best red-carpet fashion. Join the live conversation by tweeting @MTVNews with the hashtag #Oscars.

Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.