Daniel Day-Lewis takes home best actor for Lincoln and Emmanuelle Riva, the 85-year-old French film actress, won best actress for Amour.
Argo continues its momentum at awards show with three Baftas
Iran-hostage drama Argo continued its journey from awards-season outsider to favourite last night, winning three prizes, including best-picture, at the British Academy Film Awards.
Ben Affleck was named best director for the based-on-reality story of a longshot plan to rescue a group of American diplomats from Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the film also took the editing trophy.
Affleck, who has made a remarkable journey from little-regarded actor to award-winning director, dedicated his directing prize to "anyone out there who's trying to get their second act."
George Clooney, a producer of Argo, quipped: "I don't know what you're going to do for a third act."
Daniel Day-Lewis won his universally expected best-actor trophy for Lincoln - the only prize out of 10 nominations for Steven Spielberg's historical biopic.
Day-Lewis - a famously intense actor who reportedly stayed in character as the 16th US President throughout the Lincoln shoot - cracked a joke as he was given his prize.
He said that in anticipation of having to make an acceptance speech, "I've actually stayed in character as myself for the last 55 years."
Emmanuelle Riva, the 85-year-old French film legend, was named best actress for Michael Haneke's poignant old-age portrait Amour. It also was named best foreign-language film.
Made-in-Britain French revolutionary musical Les Miserables won four prizes, including best supporting actress for Anne Hathaway. James Bond adventure Skyfall spied some elusive awards recognition, winning trophies for music and best British film.
The British awards, known as BAFTAs, are increasingly glamorous - despite a well-earned reputation for dismal weather - and ever-more scrutinized as an indicator of likely success at the Hollywood Oscars. In recent years they have prefigured Academy Awards triumph for word-of-mouth hits such as Slumdog Millionaire, The King's Speech and The Artist.
This year they spread their honours widely, with multiple trophies for Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Amour and Django Unchained, as well as Argo.
Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden thriller Zero Dark Thirty was shut out of the prizes, despite five nominations.
This season's movie with momentum is crowd-pleaser Argo, which has been building steam with big prizes at ceremonies such as the Golden Globes, the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild of America Awards.
It is now considered a front-runner for the best picture award at the Oscars on February 24, even though Affleck was not nominated for best director there.
Argo marks a change for Affleck, whose first two features as director - Gone Baby Gone and The Town - were set in his native Boston. In Argo he stars as Tony Mendez, a CIA agent who poses as a sci-fi filmmaker in a risky plot to rescue Americans in Tehran.
"I wanted to get as far away from Boston as I could," Affleck said. "I ended up in Iran."
Skyfall, the highest-grossing film in the Bond series' 50-year history, was named best British film - rare awards-season recognition for an action movie. Thomas Newman's score also won the best-music prize.
Director Sam Mendes said he was accepting the trophy on behalf of the "1,292 people" who worked on Skyfall.
"We all had high expectations for this film and it's fair to say all of them have been exceeded," Mendes said. "Here's to the next 50 years."
Quentin Tarantino picked up the original screenplay award for Django Unchained, and Christoph Waltz was named best supporting actor for playing a loquacious bounty hunter in Tarantino's slave-revenge thriller.
Waltz said his victory was entirely due to Tarantino - "you silver-penned devil, you."
Tarantino also revealed that he plans another film that sets out to right an historical wrong, after anti-Nazi saga Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained.
"I think there is something about this that begs a trilogy," he said. "I don't know what the third one's going to be yet."
Hathaway said she was "overjoyed" at being named best supporting actress for her brief but powerhouse performance in Les Miserables." She said she was so taken aback that "I almost walked past George Clooney without hugging him."
She also expressed sympathy for co-star Eddie Redmayne, who had been due to present an award but - co-presenter Sally Field informed the audience - was vomiting backstage.
"Feel better," Hathaway said. "I mean I'd be holding your hair back, but, you know..."
Writer-director David O. Russell won the adapted screenplay prize for Silver Linings Playbook, a comedy about characters confronting mental illness.
"Les Mis" also took trophies for production design, sound and makeup/hair, and Life of Pi received honors for cinematography and visual effects.
Before the ceremony, stars including Clooney, Affleck, Hugh Jackman, Samuel L Jackson, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper braved a chilly rain that turned to snow outside the Royal Opera House.
For once it was hair, even more than frocks, that drew attention - many stars opted for dark colors, though Marion Cotillard defied the dull weather in a canary-yellow gown. Beards were de rigeur among male stars including Clooney, Affleck and Cooper, while Helen Mirren turned heads with a pink `do, sported in honor of breast cancer awareness.
Sunday's ceremony also saw director Alan Parker receive a BAFTA Fellowship, the academy's highest honor, for a career that includes "Midnight Express," `'Fame" and "Mississippi Burning."
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