By Todd Leopold, CNN
(CNN) — “Argo,” praise yourself.
That’s what Hollywood did on Sunday night, anyway.
“Argo,” which told the story of the rescue operation that saved six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis, took home three Oscars at the 85th Academy Awards, including the biggest award of the night: best picture.
It was both an expected and yet unlikely conclusion to an awards season that took off in strange directions, though it ended up pretty much where the Oscar prognosticators thought it would.
Director Ben Affleck, who co-produced the film with George Clooney and Grant Heslov, acknowledged the strangeness of the process in his acceptance speech.
Back in early January, “Argo” was considered an Oscar also-ran, if only because Affleck was overlooked in the best director category. In the entire history of the Oscars, just three films had won best picture without a directing nomination, and just one, “Driving Miss Daisy,” in the last 80 years.
But then the film caught fire, winning awards from the producers’, directors’ and actors’ guilds, as well as a Golden Globe, AFI Award and BAFTA. The bandwagon seemed unstoppable, except for that lack of a directing nomination.
Affleck, however, really was happy just to be here and gave a nod to his up-and-down past in his speech.
“I never thought I would be back here, and I am,” he said, thanking many people who were kind to him in Hollywood when he couldn’t repay them.
The film was also honored for its screenplay, by Chris Terrio, and William Goldenberg’s editing.
“This is nuts!”
Oscar night itself held few surprises after a season that seemed to promise an anything-goes affair.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the appearance of one of the presenters: first lady Michelle Obama, who joined Jack Nicholson via satellite to read the winner of best picture.
But most of the show met expectations. Jennifer Lawrence, just 22, won best actress for her performance as a troubled widow in “Silver Linings Playbook.” The performer was as down-to-earth in her acceptance as she’s been all season. Indeed, she almost came down to earth literally, slipping on her flowing dress as she approached the stage.
“This is nuts!” she exclaimed before thanking the other nominees in her category. She concluded with happy birthday greetings for Emmanuelle Riva, nominated for “Amour.” Riva turned 86 Sunday.
Daniel Day-Lewis set a record with his third best actor win, this time for playing Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s film “Lincoln.”
The usually serious actor got off perhaps the funniest acceptance of the night when he turned to Meryl Streep, who had presented the award, and noted that originally their roles were supposed to be reversed.
“It’s a strange thing, I had actually been committed to play Margaret Thatcher, and Meryl was Steven’s first choice for Lincoln,” he said to laughter. “I’d like to see that version.” Streep won best actress last year for playing Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”
In a mild surprise, Ang Lee won the Oscar for best director for “Life of Pi.” The film, based on the novel by Yann Martel, won four Oscars, the most for any film.
“Thank you movie god,” he said, praising “all 3,000” people who worked on the movie with him.
Anne Hathaway (“Les Miserables”) won best supporting actress and Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained”) won best supporting actor.
Hathaway looked at her statue in wonder.
“It came true,” she said.
James Bond, too, emerged a winner. After 50 years of great (and not-so-great) Bond themes, one of them finally won: Adele’s “Skyfall.”
The music, in fact, carried much of what was an uneven broadcast.
Shirley Bassey, the original James Bond hit singer, dazzled with a version of “Goldfinger.” Soon after, Jennifer Hudson raised the roof, and got a standing ovation, for a remarkable version of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” from “Dreamgirls.” Hudson won an Oscar for playing Effie, who sings the song, in 2006’s film version. Adele sang “Skyfall,” and Barbra Streisand sang “The Way We Were” for co-writer Marvin Hamlisch, who concluded the “In Memoriam” segment.
Host Seth MacFarlane started slowly, but got looser (and funnier) as the show stretched into its fourth hour. His opening consisted of some mild jokes, only a couple of which drew gasps, and some dandy song-and-dance numbers. William Shatner, in character as “Star Trek’s” James T. Kirk, offered advice — he was from the future, after all — so MacFarlane wouldn’t go down as the “worst Oscar host ever.”
But it was later in the show that MacFarlane really shined, whether it was maintaining an affable, cracking-wise-in-the-living-room demeanor or simply keeping the proceedings moving along as much as the Oscars can be moved along. At one point, welcoming Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda to give the best director honor, he quipped, “They remember when this town was cocaine trees as far as the eye can see.”
“My taste aside, this is a great show for people who love Seth MacFarlane and musical theater. Which is pretty much Seth MacFarlane,” tweeted Time’s James Poniewozik.
Twitter, of course, was the appropriate place to crack wise, and express displeasure with Oscar’s choices.
“Just a friendly reminder that Harry Potter never won an Oscar. Apparently, inspiring an entire generation isn’t good enough,” wrote Professor Snape. (For those who’ve never seen one of the eight Potter movies, Snape is a wizard professor.)
“So are they going to do the BIG FOUR AWARDS in the next 12 minutes?” said Michael Buckley, noting the show’s typically glacial pace.
And at least one person was upset at a snub during the “In Memoriam” segment, which began with Ernest Borgnine, paid tribute to critic Andrew Sarris among many others, and concluded with Hamlisch.
“Will someone at the academy ask why Andy Griffith, who was in more than a dozen films, not in the memoriam while publicists were?” tweeted Chuck Raasch.
Snubs seemed to be the theme of this year’s Oscar season, none more than Affleck’s for director.
But he wasn’t having it.
Ten years ago, after all, he was a punch line. After winning an Oscar in 1998 for co-writing “Good Will Hunting” with his good friend Matt Damon, he’d plunged into critical and/or box-office failure — “Bounce,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Changing Lanes,” “Daredevil” — topped by “Gigli,” the 2003 flop that became synonymous with the word “flop.”
He was a tabloid staple — romances with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez will do that — and so ripe for mockery that Mindy Kaling (!) played him as a track-suited doofus in her off-Broadway play, “Matt and Ben.”
The Oscar? Just luck. After all, in “Matt and Ben,” the script for “Good Will Hunting” literally falls from the heavens.
Sunday night, he showed that you make your own luck. It was a topic he touched on a few weeks ago, when the film’s ride to the top was just picking up steam.
“I just feel so incredibly honored to be nominated as a producer for this movie, to be here at the big party,” he told reporters at the Oscar luncheon in early February. “I don’t get into worrying too much about who got what and who didn’t get what. I mean, I’ve had many, many, many, many, many, many years watching from home.”
As he thanked the academy for the best picture prize, he graciously paid tribute to many people, from “Lincoln” director Steven Spielberg to the nation of Canada, which some observers believe got short shrift in “Argo.” His words, perhaps, might inspire a little more humility on the part of people who raged on his behalf.
“You can’t hold grudges. It’s hard, but you can’t hold grudges,” he said, tearing up. “And it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life, ’cause that’s gonna happen. It matters how you get up.”