(Reuters) - "Argo" stormed to Best Picture victory at the Oscars on Sunday on a night of surprises that ended in disappointment for frontrunner "Lincoln" and handed the most overall wins - four - to "Life of Pi."
It was the first time since "Driving Miss Daisy" in 1990 that a film won the top prize at the Oscars without its director also being nominated.
The honors for the Iran hostage drama marked a triumphant comeback into Hollywood's mainstream for director Ben Affleck, who failed to get a nomination in the directing category six weeks ago, and who struggled for years to rebuild his reputation after tabloid ridicule over his 2002-2004 romance with Jennifer Lopez.
"Argo" also won best film editing and best adapted screenplay for its gripping and often comedic tale of the CIA mission to rescue six U.S. diplomats from Tehran shortly after the Islamic Revolution.
"So many wonderful people extended their help to me when they had nothing to benefit from it ... 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 up," the 40-year-old Affleck, who also produced the film, said in an emotional acceptance speech.
Ang Lee was an upset choice for Best Director for his lavish shipwreck tale "Life of Pi," beating the respected Steven Spielberg, whose presidential drama "Lincoln" took home just two Oscars from a leading 12 nominations.
The other three wins for "Life of Pi" came for original score, visual effects and cinematography."
The Best Picture Oscar for "Argo" was announced in one of the best kept secrets in the history of Oscar telecasts when first lady Michelle Obama made an unprecedented video appearance from the White House to open the winning envelope.
Daniel Day-Lewis, as expected, made Oscar history and won a long standing ovation on becoming the first man to win three Best Actor Oscars. He collected the golden statuette for his intense performance as U.S. President Abraham Lincoln battling to abolish slavery and end the U.S. civil war in "Lincoln."
"I really don't know how any of this happened," said Day-Lewis, who has dual Anglo-Irish citizenship.
Jennifer Lawrence was named Best Actress for playing a feisty young widow in comedy "Silver Linings Playbook", tripping up on her Dior dress while was going up on the stage.
She beat "Zero Dark Thirty" actress Jessica Chastain and France's Emmanuelle Riva, 86, the star of Austrian foreign-language winner "Amour," in one of the closest Oscar contests this year.
The 5,800 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who chose the Oscar winners in secret ballots, dealt a stinging blow to "Zero Dark Thirty."
The movie about the 10-year-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, which has been attacked by Washington politicians and some human rights groups for its depiction of torture, came away with just one Academy Award out of five nominations.
Even that Oscar - for sound editing - had to be shared as it was a tie with James Bond blockbuster "Skyfall."
Sunday's show will also be remembered for the provocative performance given by Seth MacFarlane, creator of animated television series "Family Guy," in his debut as Oscars host.
MacFarlane, 39, pushed the envelope with cheeky songs like "We Saw Your Boobs" about actresses who have stripped down for movie roles, and jokes about Hollywood's large Jewish and gay communities.
He also turned the telecast into a running joke about whether he would be deemed the worst Oscar host ever by the media on Monday.
Anne Hathaway was a popular first time Oscar winner for her supporting turn in musical "Les Miserables."
"It came true," she said, cradling the golden statuette. Hathaway starved herself and chopped off her long brown locks to play the musical's tragic heroine Fantine in "Les Miserables" where she showed off hitherto little known talents as a singer.
Austrian Christoph Waltz, seemed shocked to win the closest contest going into the ceremony. He took Best Supporting Actor honors for his turn as an eccentric dentist turned bounty hunter in Quentin Tarantino's slavery revenge fantasy "Django Unchained."
It was Waltz's second Oscar, after winning for the Tarantino movie "Inglourious Basterds" in 2010.
A jubilant Tarantino also won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and credited the actors who brought the characters in all his films to life. "And boy this time, did I do it!," he said.
"Brave," the Pixar movie about a feisty Scottish princess, took home the golden statuette for Best Animated Feature.