– By DAVID GERMAIN
The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES – Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” a film about a fake movie, has earned a very real prize: best picture at the Academy Awards.
In share-the-wealth mode, Oscar voters spread Sunday’s honors among a range of films, with “Argo” winning three trophies but “Life of Pi” leading with four.
Daniel Day-Lewis became the first person to win three best-actor Oscars, the latest coming for “Lincoln,” while “Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence triumphed in Hollywood’s big games as best actress for “Silver Linings Playbook.”
Ang Lee pulled off a major upset, winning best director for the shipwreck story “Life of Pi,” taking the prize over Steven Spielberg, who had been favored for “Lincoln.” It was the second directing Oscar for Lee, who also won for “Brokeback Mountain.”
The supporting-acting prizes went to Anne Hathaway for “Les Miserables” and Christoph Waltz for “Django Unchained.” It was Waltz’s second supporting-actor Oscar in a Quentin Tarantino film after previously winning for “Inglourious Basterds.” Tarantino also earned his second Oscar, for the “Django” screenplay, a category he previously won for “Pulp Fiction.”
From the White House, first lady Michelle Obama joined Jack Nicholson to help present the final prize to “Argo.”
“I never thought I’d be back here, and I am because of so many of you in this academy,” said Affleck, who shared a screenplay Oscar with pal Matt Damon 15 years earlier for their breakout film “Good Will Hunting.”
Among the wisdom he’s acquired since then: “You can’t hold grudges — it’s hard but you can’t hold grudges.”
Kind words for an academy that overlooked him for a directing nomination, making “Argo” just the fourth film in 85 years to win best picture when its director was not in the running.
Lawrence took a fall on her way to the stage, tripping on the steps.
“You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell,” Lawrence joked as the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
At 22, Lawrence is the second-youngest woman to win best actress, behind Marlee Matlin, who was 21 when she won for “Children of a Lesser God.” Lawrence also is the third-youngest best-actress contender ever, earning her first nomination at age 20 two years ago for her breakout role in “Winter’s Bone,” the film that took her from virtual unknown to one of Hollywood’s most-versatile and sought-after performers.
With a monumental performance as Abraham Lincoln, Day-Lewis added to the honors he earned for “My Left Foot” and “There Will Be Blood.” He’s just the sixth actor to earn three or more Oscars, tied with Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman and Walter Brennan with three each, and just behind Katharine Hepburn, who won four.
On a not-so typically predictable Oscar night, given Lee’s win and Obama’s appearance, the emcee duties came off stylishly as crude-humor master Seth MacFarlane was on his best behavior — mostly — as host.
And “Argo” completed a quest that took it from populist underdog to Hollywood titleholder in an awards-season journey as quixotic as the film’s story line.
In Greek mythology, Argo was the name of the ship that took hero Jason and his Argonauts on their unlikely quest for the Golden Fleece that would elevate him to his rightful kingship. The real-life thriller “Argo” borrows the name as title for a phony sci-fi movie concocted by the CIA as cover to spring six U.S. diplomats from Iran during the hostage crisis that erupted in 1979.
Like the voyage of Jason and the rescue of the Americans, the Oscar journey of “Argo” was filled with obstacles.
It was a slick, optimistic film in a best-picture race that often favors sober, gloomier stories. Best-picture doom seemed to chime for “Argo” after Affleck missed out on a directing nomination.
Leading the Oscars with 12 nominations, “Lincoln” initially looked like the default favorite. Then “Argo” started collecting every prize in sight, winning top honors at the Golden Globes and guilds representing Hollywood directors, actors, producers and writers.
Hathaway is the third performer in a musical to win supporting actress during the genre’s resurgence in the last decade.
“It came true,” said Hathaway, who joins 2002 supporting-actress winner Catherine Zeta-Jones for “Chicago” and 2006 recipient Jennifer Hudson for “Dreamgirls.” Hathaway had warm thanks for “Les Miz” co-star Hugh Jackman, with whom she once sang a duet at the Oscars when he was the show’s host.
“Life of Pi” also won for Mychael Danna’s multicultural musical score that blends Indian and Western instruments and influences, plus cinematography and visual effects. In the effects category ‘Life of Pi’ beat out ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,’ for which Eric Saindon, a graduate of Maine’s Gorham High School, was nominated.