The director of 'Life of Pi' was part of one of the evening's… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
Riding high on a late-inning surge of Oscar goodwill, "Life of Pi" director Ang Lee supplied one of Sunday night's most surprising outcomes: besting Steven Spielberg for director.
Until just a few weeks ago — and with "Argo" director Ben Affleck effectively shut out of the category — Spielberg was presumed to all but have locked up the golden statuette for directing "Lincoln."
FOR THE RECORD:
Quentin Tarantino: An article in the Feb. 25 special Oscars section about surprises and snubs said that writer-director Quentin Tarantino won an Academy Award for original screenplay for "Inglourious Basterds." He was nominated for an Oscar in 2010 for that film but did not win. —
"Thank you, movie god!" Lee quietly exclaimed from the awards podium, looking skyward.
The outcome mirrored the last time Lee and Spielberg faced off at the Oscars in 2006. Likewise, that year Spielberg went home empty-handed after "Munich" lost out to Lee's celebrated win for the controversial cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain."
FULL COVERAGE: Oscars 2013 | Winners
But the pair's rematch at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday evening was hardly the only showstopping moment on Hollywood's night of nights.
Heading into the ceremony, Robert De Niro had been hailed as the odds-on favorite to capture supporting actor for his turn as an obsessive-compulsive football fan struggling to deal with his son's bipolar condition in "Silver Linings Playbook."
Dark-horse nominee Christoph Waltz claimed the award, however, also trumping Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln") with his portrayal of a dentist-turned-bounty-hunter in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained."
Oscars 2013: Nominee list | Red carpet | Highlights
The Austrian actor also walked away with a supporting actor Oscar for 2009's "Inglourious Basterds." Of course, Tarantino himself is no stranger to Oscar, having previously won original screenplay for 1994's "Pulp Fiction" and again for "Inglourious Basterds."
The writer-director made it a three-peat in the category this year, claiming the prize for his slave revenge epic-come-Spaghetti Western — a win confounding the predictions that "Zero Dark Thirty" writer Mark Boal would walk off with original screenplay after "Django" generated significant controversy for Tarantino's generous use of the N-word in the film.
"All that criticism … ended up being kind of a good thing," Tarantino said backstage Sunday night. "Because one of the things I wanted to do was start a conversation about slavery and America's role in it."
FULL COVERAGE: Oscars 2013 | Winners
Oscars producers saved the evening's rabbit-out-of-a-hat coup de grâce for late in the show.
In what amounted to an A-list introduction of an even more important VIP to present best picture, Jack Nicholson brought on none other than Michelle Obama.
Dressed in a glittering metallic dress, the first lady was beamed in via a satellite link from the White House and used her moment before an estimated audience of 1 billion people to speak broadly about moviemaking's contributions to American culture.
"Every day through engagement in the arts, our children learn to dream just a little bigger, and to strive every day to reach those dreams," Obama said. "I want to thank all of you here for being part of that vitally important work."
And with that, she gave the best picture Oscar to "Argo."
Times staff writer Jessica Gelt contributed to this report.
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