Just as Oscar host Seth MacFarlane set his sights on a variety of targets with a mixture of hits and misses, the motion picture academy spread the gold around to a varied slate of films. Argo won best picture as expected, along with two other prizes. But Life of Pi won the most awards with four, including a surprise win for director Ang Lee.
Les Miserables also won three Academy Awards, while Django Unchained and Skyfall each took two.
Among the winners were the front-runners throughout this lengthy awards season: best actor Daniel Day-Lewis for his deeply immersed portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's epic Lincoln, best actress Jennifer Lawrence as a troubled young widow in Silver Linings Playbook and supporting actress Anne Hathaway as the doomed prostitute Fantine in the musical Les Miserables.
Christoph Waltz was a bit of a surprise for supporting actor as a charismatic bounty hunter in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, an award he'd won just three years ago for Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds.
The 22-year-old Lawrence, who got to show her lighter side in the oddball romance Silver Linings Playbook following serious roles in Winter's Bone and The Hunger Games, gamely laughed at herself as she tripped on the stairs en route to the stage in her poufy, pale pink Dior Haute Couture gown.
Backstage in the press room, when a reporter asked what she was thinking, she responded: "A bad word that I can't say that starts with 'F'." Keeping journalists in hysterics, she explained, "I'm sorry. I did a shot before I ... sorry."
That's the kind of raunchiness MacFarlane himself seemed to be aiming for as host while also balancing the more traditional demands of the job. There was a ton of singing and dancing during the three-and-half-hour broadcast - no surprise from the musically minded creator of the animated series Family Guy - including a poignant performance from Barbra Streisand of The Way We Were, written by the late Marvin Hamlisch, during the memorial montage. But MacFarlane also tried to keep the humor edgy with shots at Mel Gibson, George Clooney, Chris Brown and Rihanna.
An extended bit in which William Shatner came back from the future as his Star Trek character, Caption James T Kirk, had its moments while a joke about the drama Flight being restaged entirely with sock puppets was a scream. A John Wilkes Booth gag in reference to Lincoln was a bit of a groaner, perhaps intentionally, while MacFarlane relied on his alter ego, the cuddly teddy bear from his directorial debut Ted, to make a crack about a post-Oscar orgy at Jack Nicholson's house. MacFarlane already has indicated he's one-and-done with Academy Awards hosting.
But it was Day-Lewis who came up with the kind of pop-culture riffing that's MacFarlane's specialty. In accepting his record third best-actor award from presenter Meryl Streep, he deadpanned that before they'd swapped roles, he originally was set to play Margaret Thatcher "and Meryl was Steven's first choice for Lincoln, and I'd like to see that version."
Besides best picture, Argo won for Chris Terrio's adapted screenplay and for William Goldenberg's film editing. Affleck famously (and strangely) wasn't included in the best-director category for his thrilling and surprisingly funny depiction of a daring rescue during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. But as a producer on the film alongside George Clooney and Grant Heslov, he got to take home the top prize of the night.
"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."
Lee, who previously won best director in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain (which also didn't win best picture), was typically low-key and self-deprecating in victory. His Life of Pi is a fable set in glorious 3D, but Spielberg looked like the favorite for Lincoln. The film also won for its cinematography, original score and visual effects.
"Thank you, movie god," the Taiwanese director said on stage. Later, he thanked his agents and said: "I have to do that," with a little shrug and a smile.
Les Miserables also won for sound mixing and makeup and hairstyling. The other Oscar for Django Unchained came for Tarantino's original screenplay.
Asked about his international appeal backstage, Tarantino was enthusiastic as usual in saying: "I'm an American, and a filmmaker, but I make movies for the planet Earth."
Speaking of global hits, the James Bond action thriller Skyfall won for its original song by the unstoppable Adele (with Paul Epworth). It also tied for sound editing with Zero Dark Thirty, the only win of the night for Kathryn Bigelow's detailed saga about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Among the other winners, Searching for Sugar Man, about a forgotten musician's rediscovery, took the prize for best documentary feature. Pixar's fairy tale Brave won best animated feature.
One of the biggest moments of the night came at the end, as First Lady Michelle Obama announced the winner of the best picture prize. Backstage, Affleck described how surreal it was when he heard her say the word: Argo.
"I was sort of hallucinating when that was happening," he explained. "In the course of a hallucination it doesn't seem that odd: 'Oh look, a purple elephant. Oh look, Michelle Obama'."