George Clooney

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Talk about a picture being worth a thousand words.

Sorry, Kim Novak, there's to be no throwing yourself in front of The Artist train, as the romantic—and funny!—homage to the silent-film era was named Best Picture at the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards, thereby cementing itself as an Oscar front-runner alongside whatever wins Best Drama on Sunday at the Golden Globes.

French auteur Michel Hazanavicius was named Best Director for helming the novel throwback, which also was a winner for Best Costume Design and Best Score.

But the Broadcast Film Critics Association, which does the back-patting on this occasion, didn't get too artsy tonight, also doling out top awards to a major movie star and a major hit with the masses.

George Clooney continued to prove that he's more than a piece of meat by besting fellow T-bone Brad Pitt in the Best Actor category for playing a dad trying to do everything he can to keep life under control when his cheating wife ends up in a coma in The Descendants.

He told a story about a conversation he had with his dad years ago, before nabbing his life-changing role on ER.

"He just said to me, 'If you're not proud of what you're doing, then do it better, or do something else,'" Clooney recalled his pops saying. "'You didn't have to be a sharecropper or make your own leisure suit, and we would  hope that you are happy about that. We hope the work that you do, you would be proud of.' I have to say, I am very proud to be in this film."

And though there was no hope for it in the lead actor category, The Help's Oscar fortunes skyrocketed tonight as the female-centric drama took home three awards, including Best Actress for Viola Davis, Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer and Best Acting Ensemble.

"I am absolutely so humbled," Davis said. "They say the two most important days in a person's life were the day you were born and the day you discover why you were born. And you know, five hours on the bus going to acting classes when I was 14 years old and coming from very challenging circumstances, I absolutely knew I wanted to be an actor because I wanted to be a somebody...I consider it my honor to pay homage to these woman who in this time period were not allowed to dream, not allowed to find their purpose. But thank God, and praise God, that they gave birth to me, my mother, my grandmother. And I thank Kathryn Stockett for writing The Help.

"I am absolutely so honored to be in the company of so many women of so many sizes and ages and races, and to be a part of a story that is such an incredible part of American history, to show, you know what, despite the atrocities that have happened in the past, friendship and love can help us find our way. Thank you very much," she concluded.

Meanwhile, this is the second year in a row that Aaron Sorkin has helped turn a compelling book into a movie that, on first glance, seems unfilmable but then turns out to be one of the most engaging, snappy, well-made films of the year.

Last year it was The Social Network, this year it was Moneyball, and Sorkin again wrote the Best Adapted Screenplay, along with Stevian Zaillian and Stan Chervin.

In what could be the start of an awards-season sweep, 82-year-old Christopher Plummer won Best Supporting Actor for his role as a widower who makes the most of the last years of his life after coming out as a gay man in Beginners.

"Being honored by a critic is like being on a three-week binge with the enemy," the snowy-haired Brit said graciously, starting in on the type of speech that only a British actor tends to give. "It's pretty heady stuff, but I'm cool about it. It's rather like going back to school and the headmaster calls you in and gives you a good report. Or it's also like beginning your career all over again and waiting for your first decent review.

"Anyway, I'm completely turned on," Plummer added. "I feel terribly young tonight suddenly and, at my age, I need all the help I can get in that department. So thank you indeed, you've brought back my youth." (And seeing as how he hasn't won an Oscar yet, this could be his year.)

"I gave [The New Yorker film critic] David Denby a kidney for nothing, apparently," cracked Young Adults star Patton Oswalt, who presented after losing to Plummer.

"Jerry Lewis once said he didn't think women were funny. So I'd just like to say, with all respect, 'F--k you!'" Bridesmaids executive producer Judd Apatow said in accepting for Best Comedy.

The fierce cast of The Help bested the Bridesmaids gals for Best Ensemble, while 13-year-old Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close star Thomas Horn upset The Descendants' Shailene Woodley for Best Young Actor/Actress.

Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

"Thank you all so much, this is amazing!" exclaimed the perfectly poised teen. "It's such an honor, such a privilege to be here. I didn't even imagine I would get this, but...I have!"

Though he didn't take home a trophy for the fifth time, Leonardo DiCaprio looked smashing in his awards show duds and graciously joined George Harrison's widow, Olivia, and Bob Dylan (massive standing ovation for the glowering living legend!) in honoring Martin Scorsese with the second annual Music + Film Award.

You know, because Scorsese's soundtracks are almost as iconic as his films, and the deftness with which he uses music to enrich his storytelling is nonpareil.

Clooney was the in-house humanitarian chosen to present Sean Penn with the Joel Siegel Award for the epic work he's done in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake.

George Clooney, Sean Penn

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

"I want to thank the example of Joel Siegel and George Clooney," Penn said via satellite from—where else?—Haiti. "And watching the clips of Martin Scorsese's films, I was reminded that great filmmaking is truly a humanitarian act, and the people of Haiti embrace that, and they embrace the work that the committed among you do. And so I'm here as somebody who often says, ‘Tell it to a humanitarian.' Many of you know me and know that's the last likely description of me, but it's the absolute description of the people behind me."

And since he was thousands of miles away, it wasn't too awkward for the next presenter, Penn's ex-wife Robin Wright, to get down to business.

The complete list of winners from the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards:

Best Picture: The Artist
Best Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants
Best Actress: Viola Davis, The Help
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Best Young Actor/Actress: Thomas Horn, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Best Acting Ensemble: The Help
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Best Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
Best Adapted Screenplay: Moneyball, Aaron Sorkin, Steve Zaillian and Stan Chervin (based on the book by Michael Lewis)
Best Cinematography: (tie) The Tree of Life and War Horse
Best Art Direction: Hugo
Best Editing: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Best Costume Design: The Artist
Best Makeup: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Best Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Best Sound: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Best Animated Feature: Rango
Best Action Movie: Drive
Best Comedy: Bridesmaids
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation
Best Documentary Feature: George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Best Song: "Life's a Happy Song," Brett McKenzie, The Muppets
Best Score: The Artist
Joel Siegel Award: Sean Penn
Music + Film Award: Martin Scorsese

GALLERY: 2012 Critics' Choice Awards Arrivals

(Originally published Jan. 12, 2012, at 8:02 p.m. PT)

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