After a splashy opening with host Billy Crystal and bestowing honors in technical categories, the 84th annual Academy Awards finally got down to the business of presenting its first acting honor Sunday night. Octavia Spencer, whom Las Vegas oddsmakers gave a 70-percent chance of winning, did just that, taking the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as the rebellious maid Minnie Jackson in The Help.
"I'm freakin' out," said the actress, who received the first standing ovation of the evening. Choking back tears, then finally unable to control their flow, Spencer, 32, said she needed to thank all her families: the one in her native Alabama, the one in L.A., her Help family. She also thanked the Academy for letting her sit next to the hottest guy in the room – Tate Taylor, director of The Help.
The former Ugly Betty star is the fifth African American to be named Best Supporting Actress by the Academy. The previous winners were Hattie McDaniel (Gone With the Wind), Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost), Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) and Mo'Nique (Precious).
Spencer previously won the Golden Globe, the SAG Award, a BAFTA Award and an NAACP Image Ward, among others.
Plummer's TurnNearly an hour after Spencer's win, Christopher Plummer capped an acting career that dates back to stage roles in his native Canada in 1948 – and a film debut 10 years later, by being named Best Supporting Actor for his role in Beginners. In it, he played Hal, a dying widower who comes out as a gay man shortly after the death of his wife.
At 82, Plummer is the oldest actor ever to win the category – and he earned the second standing ovation of the night.
Clutching his Oscar, he said, "You're only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?" Plummer also said he's been rehearsing his Academy speech ever since he merged from his mother's womb, before he then graciously acknowledged his fellow nominees by saying, "I'm so proud to be in your company."
Martin Scorsese's Hugo, about the early days of French cinema, went into the evening with the most nominations – 11 – and then got off to an immediate start in the victory circle, winning for its cinematography and its art direction. It then won three more, for sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects.
The Artist, which had 10 nominations, won its first award of the night for costume design. The Iron Lady took the Oscar for its makeup, which turned Meryl Streep into former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
For a complete list of Sunday's Oscar winners, click here.