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An old-fashioned Oscars, with emphasis on the 'old'

Oscar host Billy Crystal talks on stage at the 84th Academy Awards


The Artist, a French film that is mostly silent and in black and white, won the best picture at the 84th Academy Awards. The same film also won best director for Michel Hazanavicius and best actor for Jean Dujardin, as well as two other awards.

It was a year when seniority ruled at the Oscars (after last year's unsuccessful attempt to appeal to youth) in a showdown between two films: Hugo, which also won five awards, and The Artist were both set more than 80 years ago. (For full list of the night's winners, click here.)

The evening's theme, designed by producer Brian Grazer, was the pleasures of the old-fashioned big movie screen at a time, as host Billy Crystal wryly noted, when many people are watching movies on phones.

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Meryl Streep, 62, the most nominated actress in Academy history with 17 nominations, finally beat a dry spell going back to 1982 with her third Oscar for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Streep mocked her own regular nominations. "I can hear half of America saying, 'Oh come on why her again?' "

Canada's Christopher Plummer, at 82, became the oldest actor in history to win an Academy Award, taking the best supporting actor prize. Plummer won his first Oscar for the film, Beginners , as a 75-year-old man facing terminal cancer who tells his son, played by Ewan McGregor, that he is gay. The spritely actor received a prolonged standing ovation as he stood at the podium.

Looking proudly at his award, he said: "You're only two years older than me darling. Where have you been all my life?"

Plummer thanked his fellow nominees in the best supporting actor category, making special mention of fellow 82-year-old Max Von Sydow. He also thanked his co-star, McGregor, "who I would happily share this award with if I had any decency, but I don't."

In early awards, three categories went to the expected favourites with best supporting actress going to Octavia Spencer in The Help, Rango winning best animated film and the first Iranian film to win an Oscar, A Separation, named best foreign film (beating Canadian nominee Monsieur Lazhar ). Director Asghar Farhadi kept the politics low-key, saying, "I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment."

The message of the night was about the importance of the big-screen experience, at a time when cinemas have seen declining attendance. The Kodak Theatre was designed to look like an old-fashioned movie palace for the occasion and veteran 64-year-old host Billy Crystal, returning for his ninth time, and first since 2004, kept things familiar.

Unfortunately, Crystal's plan to bring the show some old-fashioned charm fell short, with references to the Brooklyn Dodgers and Sammy Davis Jr., among others, that would be lost on much of the audience. The evening was also filled with direct-to-camera testimonials from such actors as Edward Norton, Robert De Niro and Reese Witherspoon about their love of the movies.

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Crystal resurrected his trademark montage of the year's biggest films, all featuring the host in starring roles. That included a parody of The Descendants, in which Crystal received a kiss from George Clooney as his comatose wife, and a scene from Midnight in Paris which included pop star Justin Bieber promising to deliver the "18-24 demographic," a sly dig at last year's unsuccessful attempt at a younger audience.

"What does age matter?" asked Crystal at one point. The answer this year seemed to be: The older the better.

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Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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