Lee's win was one of a number of surprises Sunday night. The biggest was the double win for Quentin Tarantino's controversial slavery-era blaxploitation homage, "Django Unchained," which took Oscars for Tarantino's original screenplay and Christoph Waltz's supporting performance as a German bounty hunter. It was Waltz's second Oscar in four years, the other also for a Tarantino movie, "Inglourious Basterds."
Other acting honors went to: Daniel Day-Lewis for his portrayal of the 16th president in "Lincoln"; Jennifer Lawrence, for her performance as a neurotic young widow in the comedy "Silver Linings Playbook"; and Anne Hathaway's supporting role as Fantine, the doomed factory worker in the musical "Les Misérables."
Affleck, who was not nominated for Best Director but produced "Argo" with George Clooney and Grant Heslov, was humble in his Best Picture acceptance speech, first by praising the other eight Best Picture nominees, which he said "have as much a right to be up here as we do."
Affleck won an Oscar for co-writing "Good Will Hunting" with Matt Damon 15 years ago and said that, back then, "I didn't know what I was doing." He thanked people in Hollywood who helped him during the low points in his career, "when they couldn't benefit from it. I couldn't get them a job."
He ended his speech with inspirational advice: "It doesn't matter how you get knocked down in life. All that matters is that you gotta get up."
The most gracious speech of the night was delivered by Day-Lewis, who became the first man to win three Best Actor Oscars. Day-Lewis joked about his presenter, Meryl Streep, and director Steven Spielberg. Then he acknowledged his wife, the filmmaker Rebecca Miller, who "has lived with some very strange men the last 16 years. … She's been the versatile one in the family and she's been welcoming to every one of them."
Lawrence's acceptance speech, after tripping over her voluminous gown, was brief as she seemed overwhelmed by the moment.
Hathaway said "It came true" as she looked at her Oscar, and after thanking many people offered this wish: "Here's hoping that someday the misfortunes of Fantine will only be found in stories and not in real life."
An obscure category, Sound Editing, made news with the third tie in Oscar history. The award was shared by the sound editors for the James Bond movie "Skyfall" and the real-life spy story "Zero Dark Thirty."
"Skyfall" also won the Oscar for Original Song, performed by its co-writer, Adele Atkins. It is the first time a Bond theme has won an Oscar.
The ceremony had its share of surprises. First lady Michelle Obama, via satellite from the White House, announced "Argo's" Best Picture win. Barbra Streisand ended the "In Memoriam" segment by singing her 1973 hit "The Way We Were" (written by Marvin Hamlisch, who died last year). And Dame Shirley Bassey closed out a 50th anniversary James Bond tribute by belting out her 1964 classic "Goldfinger."
The biggest surprise of the night is that the host, "Ted" director and "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane, didn't completely stink at the most thankless job in entertainment. Some of his one-liners were a bit rude, but he delivered them with good spirits and with a showman's sense of reading the room.
MacFarlane's biggest misstep may have been the "Here's to the Losers" musical number he and Kristen Chenoweth performed at the end of the 3½-hour ceremony. But most viewers, in the Dolby Theatre or at home, probably weren't listening anyway.
And the winners are...
Here are the winners for the 85th annual Academy Awards:
Best Picture • "Argo"
Actor • Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"
Actress • Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Supporting Actor • Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained"
Supporting Actress • Anne Hathaway, "Les Misérables"
Director • Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"
Screenplay - Original • Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained"
Screenplay - Adapted • Chris Terrio, "Argo"
Cinematography • Claudio Miranda, "Life of Pi"
Film Editing • William Goldenberg, "Argo"
Production Design • "Lincoln"
Costume Design • "Anna Karenina"
Music - Original Score • Mycheal Danna, "Life of Pi"
Music - Original Song • "Skyfall" from "Skyfall"
Makeup and Hairstyling • "Les Misérables"
Visual Effects • "Life of Pi"
Sound Mixing • "Les Misérables"
Sound Editing • "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Skyfall" (tie)
Foreign-Language Film • "Amour" (Austria)
Animated Feature • "Brave"
Animated Short • "Paperman"
Documentary Feature • "Searching for Sugar Man"
Documentary Short • "Inocente"
Live-Action Short • "Curfew"