Ben Affleck's "Argo," a film about a fake movie, has earned a very real prize: best picture at the Academy Awards.
From the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama joined Jack Nicholson to help present the final prize.
"There are eight great films that have every right, as much a right to be up here as we do," Affleck said of the other best-picture nominees.
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 joined a select group of recipients with his third Oscar, taking the best-actor trophy for his monumental performance as Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War saga "Lincoln."
"Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence triumphed in Hollywood's big games, winning the best actress as a damaged soul in "Silver Linings Playbook," while Ang Lee pulled off a huge upset as best director for "Life of Pi."
Anne Hathaway went from propping up leaden sidekick James Franco at the Academy Awards to hefting a golden statue of her own with a supporting-actress Oscar win as a doomed mother-turned-prostitute in the musical "Les Miserables."
Christoph Waltz won his second supporting-actor Oscar for a Tarantino film, this time as a genteel bounty hunter in the slave-revenge saga "Django Unchained." Tarantino also won his second Oscar, for original screenplay for "Django."
Ang Lee pulled off a major upset, won best director for the shipwreck story "Life of Pi," taking the prize over Steven Spielberg, who had been favored for "Lincoln."
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 became the only performer to win three best-actor Oscars, adding 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.
Hathaway, whose perkiness helped carry her and the listless Franco through an ill-starred stint as Oscar hosts two years ago, 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.
Hathaway's Oscar came for her role as noble but fallen Fantine in the big-screen adaptation of the Broadway smash that was based on Victor Hugo's epic novel of revolution, romance and redemption in 19th century France.
"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.
"I really want to thank you for believing this story and sharing this incredible journey with me," Lee said to all who worked on the film, a surprise blockbuster about a youth trapped on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
A veteran performer in Germany and his native Austria, Waltz had been a virtual unknown in Hollywood when Tarantino cast him as a gleefully evil Nazi in 2009's "Inglourious Basterds," which won him his first Oscar.
"I have to cast the right people to make those characters come alive," said Tarantino, who won previously for "Pulp Fiction. "And boy, this time, did I do it. Thank you so much, guys."
Waltz has since done a handful of other Hollywood movies, but it's Tarantino who has given him his two choicest roles. Backstage, Waltz had a simple explanation for why the collaboration works.
"Quentin writes poetry, and I like poetry," Waltz said.
Oscar host Seth MacFarlane opened with a mildly edgy monologue that offered the usual polite jabs at the academy, the stars and the industry. He took a poke at academy voters over the snub of Ben Affleck, who missed out on a directing nomination for best-picture favorite "Argo," a thriller about the CIA's plot to rescue six Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis.
"The story was so top secret that the film's director is unknown to the academy," MacFarlane said. "They know they screwed up. Ben, it's not your fault."
"Argo" also claimed the Oscar for adapted screenplay for Chris Terrio, who worked with Affleck to create a liberally embellished story based on an article about the rescue and part of CIA operative Tony Mendez's memoir.
Terrio dedicated the award to Mendez, saying "33 years ago, Tony, using nothing but his creativity and his intelligence, Tony got six people out of a bad situation."
The foreign-language prize went to Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke's old-age love story "Amour," which had been a major surprise with five nominations, including picture, director and original screenplay for Haneke and best actress for Emmanuelle Riva, who turned 86 on Sunday and would be the oldest acting winner ever.
The top prize winner at last year's Cannes Film Festival, "Amour" follows the agonizing story of an elderly man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) tending his wife (Riva) as she declines from age and illness.
Haneke thanked his own wife for supporting him in his work for 30 years.
"You are the center of my life," Haneke said.
The Scottish adventure "Brave," from Disney's Pixar Animation unit, was named best animated feature. Pixar films have won seven of the 12 Oscars since the category was added.
"I just happen to be wearing the kilt," said "Brave" co-director Mark Andrews, who took the stage in his trademark Scottish garment.
The upbeat musical portrait "Searching for Sugar Man" took the documentary feature prize. The film follows the quest of two South African fans to discover the fate of acclaimed but obscure singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who dropped out of sight after two albums in the 1970s and was rumored to have died a bitter death.
"Thanks to one of the greatest singers ever, Rodriguez," said "Sugar Man" director Malik Bendjelloul.
There was a rare tie in one category, with the Osama bin Laden thriller "Zero Dark Thirty" and the James Bond tale "Skyfall" each winning for sound editing.
William Shatner made a guest appearance as his "Star Trek" character Capt. James Kirk, appearing on a giant screen above the stage during MacFarlane's monologue, saying he came back in time to stop the host from ruining the Oscars.
"Your jokes are tasteless and inappropriate, and everyone ends up hating you," said Shatner, who revealed a headline supposedly from the next day's newspaper that read, "Seth MacFarlane worst Oscar host ever."
The performance-heavy Oscars also included an opening number featuring Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum, who did a classy dance while MacFarlane crooned "The Way You Look Tonight." Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt then joined MacFarlane for an elegant musical rendition of "High Hopes."
Halle Berry introduced a tribute to the Bond franchise, in which she has co-starred, as the British super-spy celebrated his 50th anniversary on the big-screen last year with the latest adventure "Skyfall." Shirley Bassey sang her theme song to the 1960s Bond tale "Goldfinger." Later, pop star Adele performed her theme tune from "Skyfall," which won the best-song Oscar.
Barbra Streisand injected some musical sentiment into the show's segment memorializing Hollywood figures who died in the past year as she sang "The Way We Were," the Oscar-winning song she did in the film of the same name.
A salute to the resurgence of movie musicals in the last decade included Oscar winners Zeta-Jones singing "All That Jazz" from "Chicago" and Hudson doing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from "Dreamgirls." Hathaway and Jackman joined cast mates of best-picture contender "Les Miserables" to sing songs from their musical.
Academy officials said all performances were sung live.
Fans had pondered how far MacFarlane the impudent creator of "Family Guy," might push the normally prim and proper Oscars. MacFarlane was generally polite and respectful, showcasing his charm, wit and vocal gifts.
MacFarlane did press his luck a bit on an Abraham Lincoln joke, noting that Raymond Massey preceded "Lincoln" star Daniel Day-Lewis as an Oscar nominee for 1940's "Abe Lincoln in Illinois."
"I would argue that the actor who really got inside Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth," MacFarlane wisecracked, earning some groans from the crowd. "A hundred and 50 years later, and it's still too soon?"
The complete list of winners:
1. Best Picture: "Argo."
2. Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln."
3. Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook."
4. Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained."
5. Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables."
6. Directing: Ang Lee, "Life of Pi."
7. Foreign Language Film: "Amour."
8. Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, "Argo."
9. Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained."
10. Animated Feature Film: "Brave."
11. Production Design: "Lincoln."
12. Cinematography: "Life of Pi."
13. Sound Mixing: "Les Miserables."
14. Sound Editing (tie): "Skyfall," ''Zero Dark Thirty."
15. Original Score: "Life of Pi," Mychael Danna.
16. Original Song: "Skyfall" from "Skyfall," Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth.
17. Costume: "Anna Karenina."
18. Documentary Fe ature: "Searching for Sugar Man."
19. Documentary (short subject): "Inocente."
20. Film Editing: "Argo."
21. Makeup and Hairstyling: "Les Miserables."
22. Animated Short Film: "Paperman."
23. Live Action Short Film: "Curfew."
24. Visual Effects: "Life of Pi."
AP writers Christy Lemire, Sandy Cohen, Beth Harris and Anthony McCartney contributed to this report.