"I thought it was absolutely great," said Richard Geary of Chicago.
Billy Crystal's return as Oscar host saw ratings rise 4 percent over last year.
Oscar voters clearly showed favoritism to two films that celebrate cinema. "Hugo" and "The Artist" both won five Academy Awards, with "The Artist" taking home the top prize: best picture.
Michel Hazanavicius was named best director, and the film's star, Jean Dujardin, won the best actor prize.
"Oh, thank you. Oui. I love your country," Dujardin said when accepting his Oscar.
Martin Scorsese's Paris adventure "Hugo" took home five awards, including cinematography, art direction, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects. The film had been nominated in 11 categories.
Meryl Streep won an Oscar for her leading role in "The Iron Lady," the win coming 29 years after her last Oscar for "Sophie's Choice." It was her third Oscar win.
"When they called my name, I had this feeling I can hear half of America going, 'Oh no, oh come on, why her, again?' But whatever," Streep said when accepting her award.
The silver-screen queen has been nominated for a record breaking 17 acting Oscars.
"Frankly, I understand Streep fatigue, and it shocked me that it didn't override tonight, and so I was really, really happy, but I don't take anything for granted, that's for sure," Streep said.
Another record breaker was Christopher Plummer, who became the oldest actor to take home Oscar for his supporting role in "Beginners." It was Plummer's first Oscar win.
"You're only two years older than me, darling," Plummer said to his statuette. "Where have you been all of my life?"
And Octavia Spencer, who catapulted into stardom with her role as a headstrong black maid in the film "The Help," solidified her place among the stars, capturing the best supporting actress Oscar. Spencer said she hopes this win can be inspirational for other actresses of color.
"I hope that in some way that I can be some sort of beacon of hope, especially because I am not the typical Hollywood beauty," she said.
But not all of the biggest highlights from the night were on the official program. Sacha Baron Cohen, dressed as a dictator, spilled what he called the ashes of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on the red carpet and on TV and radio personality Ryan Seacrest.
Angelina Jolie's right leg, which was exposed by a split on her Altelier Versace velvet gown, and her leg-baring pose also set off a social media frenzy. The pose was mocked by viewers online, and a Twitter page was created called Angelina's Right Leg.
OnTheRedCarpet.com has complete coverage of the Oscar season. Follow @OnTheRedCarpet on Twitter and "Like" On The Red Carpet on Facebook, and download our FREE entertainment news app for the iPhone and iPad.