LOS ANGELES — Christoph Waltz really owes Quentin Tarantino. Waltz won his second supporting-actor Academy Award on Sunday for a Tarantino film, this time as a genteel bounty hunter in the slave-revenge saga Django Unchained.
In a choked voice, Waltz offered thanks to his character and “to his creator and the creator of his awe-inspiring world, Quentin Tarantino.”
Waltz also offered gracious thanks to his supporting-actor competitors, who included two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro and Oscar recipient Tommy Lee Jones, who had been considered a slim favourite over Waltz for the prize.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The story of an dauntless princess (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) who balks at her parents’ attempts to marry her off, Brave won out over a strong field that included Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and Frankenweenie.
“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 over a lineup of sober films that included the AIDS chronicle How to Survive a Plague, the military-rape critique The Invisible War and the Israel-Palestine studies 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers.
Searching for Sugar Man 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 rumoured to have died a bitter death.
“Thanks to one of the greatest singers ever, Rodriguez,” said Sugar Man director Malik Bendjelloul.
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 favourite 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.”
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 Just the Way You Look Tonight. Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt then joined MacFarlane for an elegant musical rendition of High Hopes.
Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron lined up a top-notch cast of stars as presenters, including The Avengers co-stars Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner. They presented two prizes that went to the shipwreck tale Life of Pi, cinematography and visual effects.
“This movie was quite a beast to make,” said cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who shot dazzling images for the story of a youth adrift on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
Miranda’s win marked another round of Oscar futility for revered cinematographer Roger Deakins, who was nominated for the James Bond adventure Skyfall.
Deakins has been nominated 10 times but has yet to win.
Halle Berry introduced a tribute to the James 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.”
A salute to the resurgence of movie musicals in the last decade included Oscar winners Catherine Zeta-Jones singing “All That Jazz” from “Chicago” and Jennifer Hudson doing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls.” Oscar nominees Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway joined cast mates of best-picture contender “Les Miserables” to sing songs from their musical.
Fans have pondered how far MacFarlane the impudent creator of “Family Guy,” might push the normally prim and proper Oscars. Nearly 90 minutes into the show, the answer was, not that far. 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?”
MacFarlane may be a wild card, but as for the show itself, predictability could be the Academy Awards’ middle name. This time looks the same, with clear favourites in the main categories.
Affleck’s “Argo” looks like it will be an uncommon film to claim best picture without a directing nomination, while “Lincoln” filmmaker Steven Spielberg and star Day-Lewis are favoured to join exclusive lists of three-time Oscar winners.
Affleck was not counting on anything, though.
“We don’t expect to depart with anything but our integrity,” Affleck said on the Oscar red carpet before the show.
“Argo” has won winning practically every top prize at earlier honours. Hollywood was shocked that Affleck was snubbed for a directing nomination, possibly earning the film some sympathy votes, particularly from actors, who love it when one of their own succeeds behind the camera.
The story of how Hollywood, Canada and the CIA teamed up to rescue six Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis, “Argo” would become just the fourth film in 85 years to claim the top prize without a best-directing nomination and the first since 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy.”
The best-picture prize typically ends the Oscar show, but this time, MacFarlane and Kristin Chenoweth will perform a closing number on the Dolby Theatre stage that producers Zadan and Meron called a “’can’t miss’ moment.”