12 Years a Slave, director Steve McQueen’s unblinking look at slavery in America in the late 19th century, won three Oscars Sunday, including Best Picture.
“I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still endure it today,” said the British-born McQueen.
Slave shared the spotlight with Alfonso Cuarón’s groundbreaking science-fiction spectacle Gravity, which dominated Hollywood’s annual tribute to itself, winning seven prizes, including Director, Cinematography, Editing, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing.
Cuarón spent five years working on the film and helping to develop the technology to make its jawdropping visuals possible. “Like any another human endeavor, making a film can be a transformative experience,” he said. “What really sucks is that for a lot of people [who worked on the film], that transformation was wisdom. For me it was just the color of my hair.”
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American Hustle, which also entered the race with 10 nominations, wound up empty-handed. Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which had five nominations, also drew a blank.
Dallas Buyers Club won three Oscars, including Best Actor for first-time nominee Matthew McConaughey as a homophobic Texas cowboy who contracted the HIV virus in the early 1980s.
“There are three things that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to and another is someone to chase,” said the visibly thrilled actor, who identified those three things as God, his family and his hero — himself in 10 years. “Every day of my life, my hero is always 10 years away. I’m never going to attain that, and that’s just fine with me, because that keeps me with someone to keep chasing.”
McConaughey’s Dallas Buyers Club co-star Jared Leto won the first award of the night, Best Supporting Actor, for his performance as Rayon, an HIV-positive transgender woman. Leto, who hadn’t appeared in a movie in six years, dedicated the Oscar to “the 36 million people who have lost the battle with AIDS.”
“In 1971 Louisiana, there was a teenage girl who was pregnant with her second child,” Leto said. “She was a high school dropout and a single mom, but somehow she managed to make a better life for herself and her children. She encouraged her kids to be creative and work hard and do something special. That girl is my mother, and she’s here tonight. Thank you for teaching me to dream.
“To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight in places like Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say we are here, and as you struggle to make your dreams happen and live the impossible, we are thinking of you tonight,” Leto said.
Dallas Buyers Club also won the Oscar for Makeup and Hairstyling.
As expected, Cate Blanchett won Best Actress for her portrayal of a fallen New York socialite in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.
“As random and subjective as this award is, it means a great deal,” she said before paying tribute to her fellow nominees. “Thank you so much, Woody, for casting me. I’m very proud that Blue Jasmine stayed in the cinemas as long as it did. Perhaps those of us in the industry who believe films with women at the center are a niche experiences, they’re not. Audiences want to see them, and they earn money. The world is round, people!”
A tearful Lupita Nyong’o earned a standing ovation — and made for one of the evening’s high points — as she accepted the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Patsey, a slave brutalized by a sadistic plantation owner (Michael Fassbender) in 12 Years a Slave.
“It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s, so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey, for her guidance,” said Nyong’o. The first-time nominee also called Fassbender “my rock” and thanked director Steve McQueen for casting her in the role.
“I’m certain that the dead are standing about you and watching, and they’re grateful, and so am I,” she told the filmmaker.
Frozen, which recently became Walt Disney’s highest-grossing animated film of all time after cracking $1 billion gross worldwide, won Best Animated Feature, edging past the crtically-acclaimed The Wind Rises by the Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki, who has indicated this might be his last film. Frozen also won the Best Original Song Oscar for Let It Go.
20 Feet from Stardom, a portrait of backup singers overlooked by history, won Best Documentary. The movie was the opening-night selection at last year’s Miami International Film Festival. Singer Darlene Love was among those who accepted the Oscar and belted out an impromptu verse from the gospel hymn His Eye is on the Sparrow.
The Great Beauty, director Paolo Sorrentino’s visually stunning story of a novelist taking stock of his life on his 65th birthday, won the Foreign Language Film Oscar. The prize marks Italy’s 28th win in this category.
The telecast was hosted by Ellen DeGeneres in her usual genial, self-deprecating manner, taking as many pokes at the audience as she did to herself.
“I hosted seven years ago, and I am so flattered and honored they asked me back so quickly,” she said. “I think you should think of yourself as winners. Not all of you, but the ones who have won before.”
At one point, she wandered into the audience and convinced Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lawrence and others to pose for a selfie in hopes of breaking the Twitter record for most re-tweeted photo. She also ordered pizza for the star-studded audience.
“Who’s your favorite movie star? They’re here,” she told the delivery man, then asked Harvey Weinstein to tip him.
DeGeneres, who is gay, also dedicated the night’s raciest joke to The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jonah Hill, who has a brief but revealing scene in the film.
“You showed us something in that film that I haven’t seen for a very, very long time,” DeGeneres cracked.