Ben Affleck's Iran hostage drama "Argo" won the coveted best film Oscar late Sunday, while Daniel Day-Lewis took a record third best actor prize at the 85th Academy Awards, Hollywood's biggest night.
Taiwan-born Ang Lee won best director for his spectacular 3D fantasy "Life of Pi," while Jennifer Lawrence was crowned best actress for "Silver Linings Playbook."
But veteran filmmaker Steven Spielberg, whose presidential drama had the most nominations with 12 nods, went home from Hollywood's biggest awards show with only two awards, best actor and a technical prize for production design.
Overall, "Life of Pi" won the most Oscars with four, against three for "Argo" and "Les Miserables," two each for "Django Unchained" and "Lincoln," and one for "Zero Dark Thirty."
In a heavily musical show, Adele sang Oscar-winning 007 theme "Skyfall" and Shirley Bassey belted out "Goldfinger" to mark 50 years of Bond films, while Barbra Streisand sang "The Way We Were," her first Oscars turn for 36 years.
In an unexpected move, the best picture winner was announced by First Lady Michelle Obama, addressing the Oscars show -- and final presenter, legend Jack Nicholson -- by videolink from the White House.
Affleck, whose movie had taken virtually all of the top prizes during Hollywood's awards season over the last two months, paid tribute to Spielberg in his acceptance speech.
"Steven Spielberg, I want to acknowledge, I feel is a genius and a towering talent among us," said Affleck, who was not nominated for best director or best actor at the Oscars, in a perceived snub.
He notably thanked former CIA agent Tony Mendez, whom he played in the movie, spearheading a bold mission to rescue six US diplomats, who took refuge in the Canadian embassy in Tehran amid the 1979 hostage crisis.
"I want to thank Canada. I want to thank our friends in Iran living in terrible circumstances right now," he said.
Iran, which has condemned "Argo' as propaganda directed against it, and state media branded the win as "the most political Oscar ever."
"Life of Pi," about a boy cast adrift in a boat in the Pacific with only a Bengal tiger for company, was shot largely in Taiwan, but the director played up the film's cosmopolitan crew.
"Ninety percent of the movie was shot in Taiwan. They gave us financial and physical help. But this was really an international film. I feel this film belonged to the world," Lee said.
Within minutes of his win, Taiwan Culture Minister Lung Ying-tai sent a congratulatory telegram to Lee, probably the island's most famous living son, saying: "We feel very proud of you."
Lawrence, star of the "Hunger Games" franchise, got a standing ovation as she took to the stage, after she stumbled on her way up the stairs.
She beat fellow nominees including the youngest ever best actress Oscar nominee, nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, and the oldest ever, French star Emmanuelle Riva, who celebrated her 86th birthday Sunday.
Day-Lewis, who had been widely expected to win best actor, appeared to fight back tears as he took the stage as the first man to win three best actor Oscars -- his others were for "My Left Foot" in 1990 and 2007's "There Will Be Blood"
He is notorious for his meticulous preparation for roles, often spending months fully in character even before filming starts.
Asked what roles he might want to play next, Day-Lewis said: "I can't think of anyone right now because I need to have to lie down for a couple of years. No, I can't think of any. I really can't, no."
Austrian director Michael Haneke's Cannes-winning "Amour," starring Riva as an elderly woman being cared for by her husband as her health slowly deteriorates, won the best foreign language film prize at the Oscars.
Best supporting actor went to Austrian Christoph Waltz, who played a dentist turned bounty hunter in Quentin Tarantino's blood-spattered spaghetti western tribute "Django Unchained." Tarantino won for best original screenplay.
Ann Hathaway won best supporting actress -- and joined fellow "Les Miserables" cast members in singing hits from the movie. The cast of "Chicago" also reunited in song, on the 10th anniversary of its best picture Oscar win.
The best animated feature film award went to Scottish-themed "Brave," which beat fellow nominees including video game adventure "Wreck-It Ralph," which had been tipped as the marginal frontrunner.
Affleck -- the first person to win best picture without being nominated as director since "Driving Miss Daisy" in 1990 -- had been given a diplomatic boost Saturday when new US Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted best wishes.
Afterwards the First Lady took to Twitter to congratulate him.
"It was a thrill to announce the #Oscars2013 best picture winner from the @WhiteHouse!," she wrote.
"Congratulations Argo! -mo," she signed off.