- Associated Press - Sunday, February 26, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer won the supporting-acting Academy Awards on Sunday and Michel Hazanavicius earned the directing prize for his best-picture front-runner “The Artist.”

The 82-year-old Plummer became the oldest acting winner ever for his role as an elderly widower who comes out as gay in “Beginners.”

“You’re only two years older than me, darling,” Plummer said, addressing his Oscar statue in this 84th year of the awards. “Where have you been all my life? I have a confession to make. When I first emerged from my mother’s womb, I was already rehearsing my Oscar speech.”

The previous oldest winner was best-actress recipient Jessica Tandy for “Driving Miss Daisy,” at age 80.

Completing an awards-season blitz that took her from Hollywood bit player to star, Spencer won for her role in “The Help” as a headstrong black maid whose willful ways continually land her in trouble with white employers in 1960s Mississippi.

Spencer wept throughout her breathless speech, in which she apologized between laughing and crying for running a bit long on her time limit.

“Thank you, academy, for putting me with the hottest guy in the room,” Spencer said, referring to last year’s supporting-actor winner Christian Bale, who presented her Oscar.

Her brash character holds a personal connection: “The Help” author Kathryn Stockett based some of the woman’s traits on Spencer, whom she met through childhood pal Tate Taylor, the director of the film.

Before taking the stage, Spencer got kisses from “The Help” co-stars Viola Davis, a best-actress nominee, and Jessica Chastain, a fellow supporting nominee.

Claiming Hollywood’s top-filmmaking honor completes Hazanavicius’ sudden rise from popular movie-maker back home in France to internationally celebrated director.

“I am the happiest director in the world,” Havanavicius said, thanking the cast, crew and canine co-star Uggie. “I also want to thank the financier, the crazy person who put money in the movie.”

Hazanavicius had come in as the favorite after winning at the Directors Guild of America Awards, whose recipient almost always goes on to claim the Oscar.

The win is even more impressive given the type of film Hazanavicius made, a black-and-white silent movie that was a throwback to the early decades of cinema. Other than Charles Chaplin, who continued to make silent films into the 1930s, and Mel Brooks, who scored a hit with the 1976 comedy “Silent Movie,” few people have tried it since talking pictures took over in the late 1920s.

The only other filmmaker from France to win the directing Oscar is “The Pianist” creator Roman Polanski, who was born in France, moved to Poland as a child and has lived in France since fleeing Hollywood in the 1970s on charges he had sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Hazanavicius, known in his home country for the “OSS 117” spy comedies but virtually unheard of in Hollywood previously, won a prize that eluded half a dozen of France’s most-esteemed filmmakers, including Jean Renoir, Francois Truffaut and Louis Malle, who all were nominated for directing Oscars but never won.

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