"Argo" producers George Clooney, left and Grant Heslov and… (Andy Rain / EPA )
LONDON — American history triumphed at the British film awards Sunday, with the Iran-hostage thriller "Argo" winning best picture and directing laurels for Ben Affleck, and the actor Daniel Day-Lewis nabbing a trophy for his star turn in the acclaimed biopic "Lincoln."
The musical-turned-movie "Les Misérables" reaped the most BAFTAs with four, including one for Anne Hathaway, who added to her Oscar momentum by being named supporting actress for her portrayal of the ravaged Fantine.
Eighty-five-year-old Emmanuelle Riva of France earned the lead actress award for her role as an aging wife in "Amour," and Austrian-born Christoph Waltz won his second supporting actor BAFTA for his scene-stealing performance as a bounty hunter in "Django Unchained."
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Overall, "Argo" won three awards, and "Lincoln" took home just one prize out of the pack-leading 10 nominations it had received. The two films headed into Sunday evening's glittering ceremony in London as the ones to beat in the big categories.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts followed other industry organizations in recognizing Affleck's directing in spite — or because — of his snub for an Oscar nomination. The auditorium erupted in a loud cheer when his name was called.
"This is a second act for me," said Affleck, who not long ago was considered by some to be washed up in show business. "You've given me that. This industry has given me that.... And so I want to dedicate this to anyone out there who's [trying] for their second act, because you can do it."
The claustrophobically tense "Argo," which BAFTA host Stephen Fry described as "a nerve-shredder of the highest order," also won an award for editing, one of seven categories in which it was nominated. "Les Misérables" and "Life of Pi" had garnered nine nods each.
Day-Lewis, a front-runner for his third acting Oscar on Feb. 24, poked fun at his reputation for immersion in his roles, saying that he had "stayed in character as myself for the last 55 years" in anticipation of winning a BAFTA and had installed BAFTA-ceremony stage sets in every home he's lived in.
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The British-Irish actor lauded director Steven Spielberg as boat-builder, helmsman, rudder and sea of the journey that they and the rest of the crew embarked on for "Lincoln."
"I wish we were still on this expedition together," Day-Lewis said.
Hathaway thanked Victor Hugo, the long-dead author of "Les Misérables," while Waltz expressed his gratitude to still-living Quentin Tarantino, director and writer of the Civil War-era "Django Unchained." Waltz won a BAFTA (and an Oscar) as supporting actor three years ago in the Tarantino film "Inglourious Basterds."
"We were just really lucky to find each other," Tarantino said of his collaboration with Waltz, an actor who "says my dialogue like nobody's business." Tarantino himself picked up the award for original screenplay on Sunday.
The ceremony was hosted for the umpteenth time by actor-comedian Fry, who exhorted winners to "run like a … gazelle to the stage" and "be damnably swift" in their acceptance speeches.
Earlier, instead of six degrees of Kevin Bacon, the audience was treated to four avatars of the actor, who reprised four of his best-known movie roles (including "Footloose" and "A Few Good Men") in an amusing opening sequence.
Once a lower-key event little noticed in Hollywood, the BAFTAs have mushroomed in significance and star power in recent years as a semi-accurate predictor of Oscar success and a red-carpet draw for A-list American celebrities.
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Plenty of presenters this year boasted Yankee accents, such as Affleck and leading-actor nominee Bradley Cooper, who together handed out the trophy for outstanding British film. Other American presenters included Kevin Spacey, Sarah Jessica Parker and George Clooney, who Fry joked stood in at the last minute for no-show David Hasselhoff of "Baywatch" fame.
But for all the Hollywood star wattage, the BAFTAs underlined the resurgence of British film on the international scene. Although there was no sweep of the awards by a hometown favorite this year, as happened with "The King's Speech" in 2011, two of the nominees for outstanding British film were worldwide hits: "Les Misérables" and the latest 007 outing, "Skyfall," which won.
The British academy reserved its highest accolade for a native son, Alan Parker, director of "Mississippi Burning," "Midnight Express," "Fame" and "The Commitments." The London-born Parker received a prestigious BAFTA fellowship, following last year's winner, Martin Scorsese.
Earlier in the weekend, "Argo" picked up yet another award, winning the Scripter Award presented by the USC Libraries for adapted screenplay. Screenwriter Chris Terrio shared the award with Antonio J. Mendez, who wrote the autobiographical "The Master of Disguise," and Joshuah Bearman, who penned the Wired magazine article "The Great Escape."
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