LOS ANGELES – Perhaps atoning for past sins, Hollywood named the brutal, unshrinking historical drama “12 Years a Slave” best picture at the 86th annual Academy Awards.
Steve McQueen’s slavery odyssey, based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir, has been hailed as a landmark corrective to the movie industry’s long omission of slavery stories, following years of whiter tales like 1940 best-picture winner “Gone With the Wind.”
A year after celebrating Ben Affleck’s “Argo” over Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences opted this time for stark realism over more plainly entertaining candidates like the 3-D space marvel “Gravity” and the starry 1970s caper “American Hustle.”
Those two films came in as the leading nominee getters. David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” went home empty-handed, but “Gravity” triumphed as the night’s top award-winner. Cleaning up in technical categories like cinematography and visual effects, it earned seven Oscars including best director for Alfonso Cuaron. The Mexican filmmaker is the category’s first Latino winner.
Host Ellen DeGeneres presided over a smooth if safe ceremony, punctuated by politics, pizza and photo-bombing.
The Oscars fittingly spread the awards around. The starved stars of the Texas AIDS drama “Dallas Buyers Club” were feted: Matthew McConaughey for best actor and Jared Leto for best supporting actor.
McConaughey’s award capped a startling career turnaround, a conscious redirection by the actor to tack away from the romantic comedies he regularly starred in, and move toward more challenging films. He said he’s always chasing a better version of himself, his “hero”: “Every day, every week, every month of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away.”
Leto passed around his Oscar to members of the press backstage.
Cate Blanchett took best actress for her fallen socialite in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” her second Oscar.
Draped in Nairobi blue, Lupita Nyong’o – the Cinderella of the awards season – won best supporting actress for her indelible impression as the tortured slave Patsey. It’s the feature film debut for the 31-year-old actress.
Though the ceremony lacked a big opening number, it had a steady musical beat to it. To a standing ovation, Bono and U2 performed an acoustic version of “Ordinary Love,” their Oscar-nominated song from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” a tune penned in tribute to the late South African leader Nelson Mandela.
Pink was cheered for her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” part of a 75th anniversary tribute to “The Wizard of Oz.” And Bette Midler sang “Wind Beneath My Wing” for the in memoriam segment – an especially heartfelt one, considering the deaths of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Harold Ramis, James Gandolfini and others.
Best documentary went to the crowd-pleasing backup singer ode “20 Feet From Stardom.”
Disney’s global hit “Frozen” won best animated film, marking somewhat remarkably – the studio’s first win in the 14 years of the best animated feature category. With a box-office that recently passed $1 billion globally, the film was sure to be the biggest hit to take home an Oscar on Sunday. The film’s “Let It Go” won best original song.