Oscar for Best Picture 2013

Oscars 2013: best picture belongs to Argo, while Life of Pi helps upset Lincoln's ship

Ben Affleck with his Oscar for ArgoTriumphant … Ben Affleck with his Oscar for Argo. Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

It was always going to be the battle of the real-life freedom fighters. Would the Oscars glorify the 16th president responsible for the emancipation of African American slaves in the 1860s, or the rogue CIA agent parachuted into Tehran to smuggle out six Americans hiding in the Canadian embassy in 1980? Or might it even choose to ignore the controversy and applaud the rogue team responsible for finally tracking down Osama bin Laden?

In an unusual joint presentation by Jack Nicholson and – via video link live from the White House, Michelle Obama – Affleck accepted the award alongside his producers, Grant Heslov and George Clooney. The director paid tribute to his fellow nominees (including Steven Spielberg) as well as to his cast and crew, wife Jennifer Garner, his children and the people of Iran.

But the tigers came at night and made for an evening of more upsets than many had anticipated. While Affleck's film went home with just three awards, for best editing, best adapted screenplay and best picture, Ang Lee was a surprise winner of the best director award (for which Affleck was not nominated) for his game-changing 3D adaptation of the Yann Martel novel Life of Pi. That film took four awards in total, the most of any movie this year.

The best-received speech of the evening was given by Daniel Day-Lewis, who enters the record books as the first man to win three Oscars for leading roles. He paid tribute to the man he played, Abraham Lincoln; to his own mother, ; his wife, Rebecca Miller; and the presenter of his award, Meryl Streep. Streep had, he jokingly claimed, been Spielberg's first choice for the part, just as he had been in the running to play Margaret Thatcher (the role for which Streep won the best actress award last year). Though it went into the race as frontrunner, with 13 nominations, Lincoln won just two awards, for best actor and for production design.

Yet the biggest surprise of the night was doubtless Jennifer Lawrence's victory in the best actress category for her part as an unhinged widow in David O Russell's Silver Linings Playbook. In a breathless speech, the 22-year-old wished a happy 86th birthday to her fellow nominee, Emmanuelle Riva, who had been seen as favourite to take the award for her role in Amour. Jessica Chastain was viewed as the closest rival for her part in Zero Dark Thirty – in the end, that film only took one award, for sound editing, which it shared with Skyfall.

More predictable were the three awards that went to Tom Hooper's Les Misérables – two technical, and a best supporting actress gong for Anne Hathaway's showstopping role as warbling prostitute Fantine. In a brief speech, Hathaway expressed the hope that "sometime in the not-too-distant future, the misfortunes of Fantine will only be found in stories – and not in real life".

Les Misérables producer Eric Fellner expressed his satisfaction with the result, saying he was "thrilled" - especially as the company of which he is co-chair, Working Title, racked up four Oscars: the three for Les Misérables plus a best costume design for Anna Karenina. "As a producer, it's particularly wonderful when the technicians and crew get recognition: for example, the Les Mis sound guys were given such a tough gig, so it's so great when they win an Oscar."

The 85th Academy Awards were notable for a ceremony heavy on the hoofing, with high-octane renditions of Bond themes by Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger) and Adele, who belted out the theme from Skyfall live for the first time. The singer also picked up the best original song award – the film's second award of the night.

An energetic rendition of All that Jazz by Catherine Zeta-Jones was the centrepiece of a reunion for the cast of Chicago (which swept the board at the Oscars 10 years ago). There was also a medley by the cast of this year's musical hopeful, Les Misérables, with Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman giving their lungs an airing.

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