The films, which both celebrate the history of cinema, took home five Oscars apiece at the ceremony, which was hosted by Billy Crystal from the Hollywood & Highland Theatre.
The Artist dominated the major awards, winning 'Best Picture', 'Best Director' for Michel Hazanavicius and 'Best Actor' for star Jean Dujardin. The black-and-white film, the first to win the coveted 'Best Picture' since 1928's Wings, also won for 'Original Score' and 'Costume Design'.
Director Hazanavicius thanked American filmmaker Billy Wilder three times in his 'Best Picture' acceptance speech, before telling his wife Berenice Bejo - who also stars in The Artist - that she was his inspiration for the film.
"I'd like to say a very, very important thing. I want to say 'Hi' to my kids - and it's 6 o'clock in the morning in Paris, so you should go to bed in 30 seconds!" he said.
"I want to say to my wife, Berenice Bejo, that I love you, but it's not just about that... you inspired the movie, and you're the soul of the movie and the positive feeling of the movie."
Martin Scorsese's Hugo dominated the technical categories, picking up wins for 'Art Direction', 'Cinematography', 'Sound Editing', 'Sound Mixing' and 'Visual Effects'.
Meryl Streep won the third Academy Award of her career when she was named 'Best Actress' for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
"When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going 'Oh no... her again!' But, whatever," she joked.
After a standing ovation, an emotional Streep reflected on her "inexplicable wonderful career".
"I look out here and I see my life before my eyes. My old friends, my new friends and really... this is such a great honour, but the thing that counts the most with me is the friendships and the love and the sheer joy that we have shared making movies together," she said. "Thank you all you - departed and here - for this inexplicable wonderful career."
The Help's Octavia Spencer won the 'Best Supporting Actress' trophy, while 82-year-old Christopher Plummer became the oldest Oscar-winner after collecting the 'Best Supporting Actor' prize for his role in Beginners.
"You're only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all of my life?" Plummer said to his trophy as he collected his Academy Award.
Elsewhere, Rango netted the 'Best Animated Feature', and Flight of the Conchords star Bret McKenzie won 'Original Song' for his 'Man or Muppet' track from The Muppets.
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Watch Digital Spy interviews with the stars of The Artist below:
View a picture gallery of all the big winners from the 84th Academy Awards: