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Argo all the way

CNN News Wire | 2/24/2013, 5 p.m.

"Argo," praise yourself.

That's what Hollywood did on Sunday night, anyway.

"Argo," which told the story of the rescue operation that saved six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis, took home three Oscars at the 85th Academy Awards, including the biggest award of the night: best picture.

It was both an expected and yet unlikely conclusion to an awards season that took off in strange directions, though it ended up pretty much where the Oscar prognosticators thought it would.

Director Ben Affleck, who co-produced the film with George Clooney and Grant Heslov, acknowledged the strangeness of the process in his acceptance speech.

Back in early January, "Argo" was considered an Oscar also-ran, if only because Affleck was overlooked in the best director category. In the entire history of the Oscars, just three films had won best picture without a directing nomination, and just one, "Driving Miss Daisy," in the last 80 years.

But then the film caught fire, winning awards from the producers', directors' and actors' guilds, as well as a Golden Globe, AFI Award and BAFTA. The bandwagon seemed unstoppable, except for that lack of a directing nomination.

Affleck, however, really was happy just to be here and gave a nod to his up-and-down past in his speech.

"I never thought I would be back here, and I am," he said, thanking many people who were kind to him in Hollywood when he couldn't repay them.

The film was also honored for its screenplay, by Chris Terrio, and William Goldenberg's editing.

"This is nuts!"

Oscar night itself held few surprises after a season that seemed to promise an anything-goes affair.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the appearance of one of the presenters: First Lady Michelle Obama, who joined Jack Nicholson via satellite to read the winner of best picture.

But most of the show met expectations. Jennifer Lawrence, just 22, won best actress for her performance as a troubled widow in "Silver Linings Playbook." The performer was as down-to-earth in her acceptance as she's been all season. Indeed, she almost came down to earth literally, slipping on her flowing dress as she approached the stage.

"This is nuts!" she exclaimed before thanking the other nominees in her category. She concluded with happy birthday greetings for Emmanuelle Riva, nominated for "Amour." Riva turned 86 Sunday.

Daniel Day-Lewis set a record with his third best actor win, this time for playing Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's film "Lincoln."

The usually serious actor got off perhaps the funniest acceptance of the night when he turned to Meryl Streep, who had presented the award, and noted that originally their roles were supposed to be reversed.

"It's a strange thing, I had actually been committed to play Margaret Thatcher, and Meryl was Steven's first choice for Lincoln," he said to laughter. "I'd like to see that version." Streep won best actress last year for playing Thatcher in "The Iron Lady."

In a mild surprise, Ang Lee won the Oscar for best director for "Life of Pi." The film, based on the novel by Yann Martel, won four Oscars, the most for any film.