Coming into the Oscars already having won a slew of prizes, the slickly made drama is based on the Canadian Caper, the covert rescue operation of Americans during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. It centres on a former CIA agent and his scheme to disguise the escapees as a Canadian film crew working on a fake sci-fi movie.
After Michelle Obama announced Argo as winner via satellite link from the White House, Affleck — its lead actor, director and co-producer — raced through a long list of thank yous, including for Tony Mendez, the CIA agent on whose perspective the film is based. Affleck also thanked Canada as well as "friends in Iran who are living through terrible circumstances right now."
"I never thought it would be back here and I am because of so many of you here today," he said, recalling his earlier Oscar win for co-writing Good Will Hunting.
"You can't hold grudges. It's hard but you can't hold grudges...It doesn't matter how you get knocked down in life, because it happens. All that matters is that you get back up," added Affleck, who was left off the directing nominees in what was widely considered a snub.
He shared the best-picture win at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre with co-producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Earlier in the evening, Argo's Chris Terrio won the adapted screenplay trophy. The writer thanked former CIA agent Mendez as well as the Canadian diplomats responsible for the real-life escape from Iran: "the [Ken] Taylors and the [John] Sheardowns and people all over the world, in the U.S., in Canada, in Iran, who use creativity and intelligence to solve problems non-violently."
Argo, which also earned the Oscar for film editing, sparked controversy after its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Canadian media, film critics and Taylor himself objected to historical inaccuracies in the film and the fact that Canada's role was minimized. Affleck subsequently worked with Taylor to amend the film's postscript.
After the ceremony, former Canadian ambassador Taylor said from New York that he was satisfied with Affleck's speech. "He, in a rush, accepted and tried to extend recognition to everybody in sight and so that was fine. We were comfortable with that."
Kudos for Life of Pi
Taking home the most hardware Sunday night was the 3D shipwreck epic Life of Pi. Canadian composer Mychael Danna earned his first ever Oscar for his original score. Shortly thereafter, director Ang Lee picked up directing honours for the film, based on Canadian novellist Yann Martel's award-winning book.
"I share this wondrous award with our visionary captain, Ang Lee... [Life of Pi] transcends culture and race and religion," Toronto composer Danna said of his third collaboration with the Taiwanese filmmaker.
For his part, Lee thanked the "movie god," the massive crew of his film — "All who believed in this story and shared this story with me" — and Martel for writing "this incredible book."
Life of Pi's two other wins came for its cinematography and its visual effects, with Vancouver-based effects supervisor Guillaume Rocheron among those honoured with the latter prize.
Awards spread out
Considered a lock for the award practically from Lincoln's debut, Daniel Day-Lewis won a record third best actor Oscar for his memorable turn as Abraham Lincoln.
Meanwhile, another two frontrunners this season captured the best actress and supporting actress titles: rising star Jennifer Lawrence, noted for her performance as a troubled widow in the oddball romance and mental illness drama Silver Linings Playbook, and Anne Hathaway, for her turn in Les Misérables.
Hathaway's supporting actress win was the third trophy for Tom Hooper's star-studded musical, which also earned Oscars for its sound mixing and makeup and hairstyling.
Django Unchained's Christoph Waltz triumphed in a supporting actor field where all nominees were past Oscar winners: his rivals included Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones.
"We participated in a hero's journey, the hero here being Quentin [Tarantino]," declared Waltz, whose previous win came for his role in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds.
"You scale the mountain because you're not afraid of it. You slay the dragon because you're not afraid of it. You cross through fire because it's worth it. I borrowed my character's words. So sorry... I couldn't resist.," he said.
In turn, Tarantino later enthused about Django Unchained actors when accepting the Oscar for best original screenplay.
"I've been saying things like 'I want to thank the actors for what they've done with my script.' It's not just an easy thing to say, it's why I'm standing here," he told the audience.
Canadians lose out
Overall, Canadians had mixed success on Oscar night. B.C. set decorator Jim Erickson was among the Canucks who triumphed, sharing in the production design win for Lincoln.
Montrealer Kim Nguyen's child soldier drama War Witch (also known as Rebelle) was the third consecutive Quebec film to become a best foreign-language film nominee, but failed to win the category. The end-of-life drama Amour, an awards season favourite directed by Austrian film auteur Michael Haneke, took the prize.
Three of the evening's live-action short nominees also had Canadian connections: Toronto-area producer Mino Jarjoura for the Somali pirate coming-of-age story Asad, Montreal filmmaker Yan England for Henry, inspired by his late grandfather, and Afghan story Buzkashi Boys, whose producers include Halifax-born, Montreal-based producer Ariel Nasr and Langley, B.C.-born filmmaker Leslie Knott. They all lost out to Curfew, directed, written by and starring U.S. filmmaker Shawn Christensen.
A major question mark for the evening was the choice of Seth MacFarlane as host. Known for creating TV's edgy cartoon Family Guy and the raunchy film Ted, as well as for being an able crooner, MacFarlane delivered an opening that relied heavily on song-and-dance as well as pre-recorded skits, including appearances from a choir, Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon Levitt, Sally Field and Canadian William Shatner (in character as Star Trek's Capt. James T. Kirk).
He drew mixed reviews for his blending of a Frank Sinatra-style singing voice and stylish Rat Pack-like appearance with boundary-pushing humour, which included riffing on Chris Brown and Rihanna's rocky relationship, a joke about Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth and a strange bit about Jews in Hollywood as he presented an award (in character) as the titular lewd teddy bear of Ted alongside co-star Mark Wahlberg.
In addition to MacFarlane's opening numbers, producers punctuated the ceremony with musical sequences, including a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film franchise. One-time Bond girl and Oscar-winner Halle Berry introduced a montage of the 007 films, while singer Shirley Bassey proved to be one of the evening's highlights with her powerful performance of the iconic theme to Goldfinger.
A segment honouring movie musicals of the past decade — including Chicago, Dreamgirls and nominated film Les Misérables — came mid-evening, followed later by Barbra Streisand, Norah Jones and Adele, who sang her James Bond theme Skyfall before it won the Oscar for best song.
MacFarlane and Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth closed the broadcast with a slightly impromptu number about the night's "losers."
The Oscars represent a posh finish line to the marathon movie awards season, coming after year-end critics' prizes, industry association and guild tributes as well as other honours such as the Golden Globes. The main awards ceremony was broadcast live to more than 225 countries.