IT WAS the perfect Hollywood ending. A movie about a fake Hollywood movie, made by a popular actor who had been bafflingly overlooked for best director, has triumphed at the 85th Academy Awards.
Ben Affleck, whose career has risen and fallen since he won an Oscar for writing Good Will Hunting 15 years ago, returned to the highest of movie industry stages as producer, director and star of Argo.
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Argo takes home best picture
Philippa Hawker and Karl Quinn discuss all the highs and lows of the 85th Academy Awards.
In a surprise appearance, the American first lady, Michelle Obama, announced the political thriller had won best picture, becoming the first winner without a directing nomination since Bruce Beresford's Driving Miss Daisy in 1990.
Argo, which is based on a true story about the CIA's audacious plan to create a sci-fi movie to free Americans trapped in post-revolutionary Iran in 1980, had been favourite after dominating Hollywood's long awards season.
''There are eight great films that have as much a right to be up here as we do,'' an emotional Affleck said. He thanked the CIA operative Tony Mendez for letting the filmmakers tell his story and, in a nod to the controversy over the movie playing down the key role of America's northern neighbours, he thanked Canada.
''I never thought I would be back here but I am,'' Affleck said.
''It doesn't matter how you get knocked down in life because that's going to happen. All that matters is that you've got to get up.''
While Steven Spielberg had been favourite to win best director for Lincoln, Ang Lee won for Life of Pi, his visually stunning adaptation of what had been considered an unfilmable novel by Yann Martel about a boy stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger. He had previously won for Brokeback Mountain.
''Thank you movie god,'' Lee said, looking skywards. He thanked ''all 3000'' who worked on the movie, including those in Taiwan, India and Canada.
It was an Oscars clearly intended to lift its American television appeal - hosted by Family Guy and Ted creator Seth MacFarlane, with an appearance by the cast of The Avengers and tributes to the Bond series and movie musicals.
Best actor went to Daniel Day-Lewis, who played a noble Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln. He became the first three-time winner of the best actor Oscar.
''I really don't know how any of this happened,'' he said. ''I do know that I've received so much more of my share of good fortune in this life.''
Jennifer Lawrence, who was virtually unknown until her Oscar-nominated role in the 2010 drama Winter's Bone, was confirmed as one of Hollywood's brightest young talents when she won best actress for playing a troubled young widow in Silver Linings Playbook.
''Thank you to the women this year, you're so magnificent and so inspiring,'' she said. ''And not just those of you in my category.''
The hottest favourite in any category, Anne Hathaway, won best supporting actress for her stirring performance as a single mother forced into prostitution in Les Miserables.
''It came true,'' she said, adding: ''Here's hoping that some day in the not-too-distant future, the misfortunes of Fantine will only be found in stories and never more in real life.''
Best original screenplay went to Quentin Tarantino for the revisionist western Django Unchained.
Lincoln had the most nominations with 12 but won only two - best actor and production design. Tommy Lee Jones had been favoured to win best supporting actor for the presidential biopic but the award went to Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained.
While Australians dipped out - no success for Naomi Watts (The Impossible), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook), Rick Findlater (make-up and hairstyles on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) and David Clayton (visual effects on The Hobbit) - Austrians did well.
As well as Waltz, the director Michael Haneke's Amour, a drama about an elderly loving couple facing declining health, won best foreign-language film.