The win is even more impressive given the type of film Hazanavicius made, a black-and-white silent movie that was a throwback to the early decades of cinema. Other than Charles Chaplin, who continued to make silent films into the 1930s, and Mel Brooks, who scored a hit with the 1976 comedy "Silent Movie," few people have tried it since talking pictures took over in the late 1920s.
The only other filmmaker from France to win the directing Oscar is "The Pianist" creator Roman Polanski, who was born in France, moved to Poland as a child and has lived in France since fleeing Hollywood in the 1970s on charges he had sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Hazanavicius, known in his home country for the "OSS 117" spy comedies but virtually unheard of in Hollywood previously, won a prize that eluded half a dozen of France's most-esteemed filmmakers, including Jean Renoir, Francois Truffaut and Louis Malle, who all were nominated for directing Oscars but never won.
The five Oscars for "Hugo," which led contenders with 11 nominations, included cinematography, art direction and visual effects.
The visual-effects prize had been the last chance for the "Harry Potter" franchise to win an Oscar. The finale, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," had been nominated for visual effects and two other Oscars but lost all three. Previous "Harry Potter" installments had lost on all nine of their nominations.
The teen wizard may never have struck Oscar gold, but he has a consolation prize: $7.7 billion at the box office worldwide, including $1.3 billion from "Deathly Hallows: Part 2," last year's top-grossing movie.
"And yet they only paid 14 percent income tax," Oscar host Billy Crystal joked about the "Potter" franchise.
Another beloved big-screen bunch, the Muppets, finally got their due at the Oscars. "The Muppets" earned the best-song award for "Man or Muppet," the sweet comic duet sung by Jason Segel and his Muppet brother in the film, the first big-screen adventure in 12 years for Kermit the frog and company.
Earlier Muppet flicks had been nominated for four music Oscars but lost each time, including the song prize for "The Rainbow Connection," Kermit's signature tune from 1979's "The Muppet Movie."
"I grew up in New Zealand watching the Muppets on TV. I never dreamed I'd get to work with them," said "Man or Muppet" writer Bret McKenzie of the musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords," who joked about meeting Kermit for the first time. "Like many stars here tonight, he's a lot shorter in real life."
Filmmaker Alexander Payne picked up his second writing Oscar, sharing the adapted-screenplay prize for the Hawaiian family drama "The Descendants" with co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Payne, who also directed "The Descendants," previously won the same award for "Sideways."
Payne said he brought along his mother from Omaha, Neb., to the Oscars, and that she had demanded a shout-out if he made it onstage.
"She made me promise that if I ever won another Oscar I had to dedicate it to her just like Javier Bardem did with his Oscar. So mom, this one's for you. Thank you for letting me skip nursery school so we could go to the movies."
Woody Allen earned his first Oscar in 25 years, winning for original screenplay for the romantic fantasy "Midnight in Paris," his biggest hit in decades. It's the fourth Oscar for Allen, who won for directing and screenplay on his 1977 best-picture winner "Annie Hall" and for screenplay on 1986's "Hannah and Her Sisters."
Allen also is the record-holder for writing nominations with 15, and his three writing Oscars ties the record shared by Charles Brackett, Paddy Chayefsky, Francis Ford Coppola and Billy Wilder.
No fan of awards shows, Allen predictably skipped Sunday's ceremony, where he also was up for best director and "Midnight in Paris" was competing in vain for best picture.
Best-picture front-runner "The Artist," which ran second to "Hugo" with 10 nominations, won Oscars for musical score and costume design.