Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — Octavia Spencer won the supporting-actress Academy Award on Sunday for "The Help," completing an awards-season blitz that took her from Hollywood bit player to star.
Spencer's Oscar triumph came for her role 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.
"I share this with everybody," whose 15-year career includes dozens of small parts, often as a nurse, in such movies and TV shows as "Seven Pounds," ''A Time to Kill" and "The X-Files."
Martin Scorsese's Paris adventure "Hugo" won four Oscars, including the first two prizes of the night, for cinematography and art direction. It also won for sound mixing and sound editing.
It was a great start for Scorsese's film, which led contenders with 11 nominations.
"Marty, you're a genius as usual," said "Hugo" cinematographer Robert Richardson, who won his third Oscar after previous wins for "JFK" and Scorsese's "The Aviator."
Best-picture front-runner "The Artist," which ran second to "Hugo" with 10 nominations, won for costume design.
The Oscars normally start with a major prize such as one of the supporting-acting categories, but this one began with an unusual flurry of technical awards. Meryl Streep's Margaret Thatcher drama "The Iron Lady" claimed the makeup Oscar.
"Thanks, Meryl, for keeping me employed for the last 37 years. Your brilliance makes my work look good, no matter what," said J. Roy Helland, who shared the makeup Oscar with Mark Coulier.
Oscar organizers saved the first acting trophy until nearly a quarter of the way through the 24 awards. But TV viewers had a consolation prize at the outset with the return of beloved Oscar host Billy Crystal.
Crystal got the show off to a lively start with a star-laden montage in which he hangs out with Justin Bieber and gets a nice wet kiss from George Clooney.
Back as Oscar host for the first time in eight years, Crystal also did his signature introduction of the best-picture nominees with a goofy song.
Before his monologue, Crystal appeared in a collection of clips inserting him in scenes from key nominees. The montage included re-creations from some 2011 films featuring Tom Cruise of "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol" and Clooney's best-picture contender "The Descendants," with the actor planting a kiss on Crystal.
Spoofing a scene from nominee "Midnight in Paris," Bieber told Crystal he was there to bring in the 18-to-24-year-old demographic for the 63-year-old host.
Crystal's return as host seemed appropriate on a night that had Hollywood looking back fondly on more than a century of cinema history.
The top two nominees — "Hugo" and "The Artist" — are both love songs to early cinema.
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