Actress Lupita Nyong'o accepts the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role award for "12 Years a Slave" onstage during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on March 2, 2014, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Updated: March 3, 2014 3:40PM
Steve McQueen’s brutal, unshrinking historical drama “12 Years a Slave” took home the Oscar for best picture Sunday night at the 86th Academy Awards. Based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir, the film has been hailed as a landmark corrective to the movie industry’s virtual blindness to slavery, instead creating whiter tales like the 1940 best-picture winner “Gone With the Wind.” “12 Years a Slave” is the first best-picture winner directed by a black filmmaker.
McQueen dedicated the honor to those who suffered slavery and “the 21 million who still endure slavery today.”
“Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live,” said McQueen, who promptly bounced into the arms of his cast. “This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup.”
A year after celebrating Ben Affleck’s “Argo” over Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this time opted 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, and “Gravity” still triumphed as the night’s top award winner. Cleaning up in technical categories, it earned seven Oscars including best director for Alfonso Cuaron. The Mexican filmmaker is the category’s first Latino winner.
The best actress Oscar went as many had expected to Cate Blanchett for “Blue Jasmine,” who thanked writer-director Woody Allen for the film.
The best actor statuette went to Matthew McConaughey for his work in “Dallas Buyers Club.” In his speech he thanked his mom seated in the audience for “demanding that me and my brother respect ourselves, and in turn we learn to respect others.”
First-time winners Lupita Nyong’o and Jared Leto took supporting acting honors, while the 3-D spectacle “Gravity” amassed a force of technical awards in a smooth if safe Oscar ceremony punctuated by politics, pizza and photo-bombing.
Wearing Nairobi blue, the 31-year-old Nyong’o, breakout star of the historical drama “12 Years a Slave,” accepted the award for best supporting actress. In her feature film debut, Nyong’o made an indelible impression as the tortured slave Patsey.
“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, and so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance,” said Nyong’o. Glowing backstage, she cradled her statuette: “I’m so happy to be holding this golden man.”
The 86th annual Academy Awards from Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre were hosted nimbly by Ellen DeGeneres. Her second stint was a kind of amiable, light-footed correction from last year’s “We Saw Your Boobs”-singing host Seth MacFarlane.
After warmly needling stars in a simple, dance-free opening monologue, DeGeneres circulated freely in the crowd. She had pizza delivered, appealing to Harvey Weinstein to pitch in, and gathered stars to snap a selfie she hoped would be a record-setter on Twitter (1.4 million tweets in an hour and still counting). One participant, Meryl Streep, giddily exclaimed: “I’ve never tweeted before!”
Leto won best supporting actor for his acclaimed, gaunt performance as a theatrical transgender suffering from AIDS in the Texas drama “Dallas Buyers Club.” He thanked his mother, his date on the night.
“Thank you for teaching me to dream,” said Leto. Later backstage, he passed around his Oscar to members of the press, urging them to “fondle” it. The long-haired actor, who has devoted himself in recent years to his rock band 30 Seconds to Mars, gravely vowed: “I will revel tonight.”
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. Singing his nominated “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2,” Pharrell Williams had Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio dancing in the aisles.
In the end, “Let It Go” from the Disney musical “Frozen” has won the Academy Award for best original song. The song, a catchy anthem sung by veteran Broadway songstress Idina Menzel and adored by countless young girls, many of whom are singing in it their own YouTube videos, has helped propel “Frozen” to become a huge hit.
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 — what else? — “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.
The Oscar for best adapted screenplay went to John Ridley for “12 Years a Slave.” The best original screenplay honor went to Spike Jonze for “Her.”
The best documentary feature statuette went to “20 Feet From Stardom.” The documentary puts the spotlight on backup singers, was directed by Emmy winner Morgan Neville. It takes a look at the singers who come of age amid the careers of luminaries like Ray Charles, Tina Turner and Stevie Wonder.
Befitting the attention that they normally miss out on, backup singer Darlene Love broke into song before the Dolby Theatre crowd, singing “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.”
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. (Pixar, which Disney owns, has regularly dominated.) With box-office that recently passed $1 billion globally, the film was the biggest hit to take home an Oscar on Sunday.
“We’re all just trying to make films that touch people,” said co-director Chris Buck backstage. “Once in a while, you get lucky.”
Though the Oscar ceremony is usually a glitzy bubble separate from real-world happenings, international events were immediately referenced. In his acceptance speech, Leto addressed people in Ukraine and Venezuela.
“We are here and as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we’re thinking of you,” said Leto.
Russian state-owned broadcaster Channel One Russia said it would not broadcast the Oscars live because of the necessity for news coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. It will instead transmit the Oscars early Tuesday morning, local time.
Venezuelan protesters, via social media, urged Oscar winners to bring attention to their plight. Anti-government protests have roiled the country in recent weeks.
Italy’s “The Great Beauty” won the Oscar for best foreign language film. In accepting the award for his rumination on life and Rome’s decadence, director Paolo Sorrentino thanked his heroes, including Federico Fellini, Martin Scorsese and soccer star Diego Maradona. It ended Italy’s 14-yearlong drought in the foreign language category.
There was a sense of deja vu Sunday. Just as she hit the red carpet, Jennifer Lawrence briefly collapsed in a heap of laughter, just as she tripped ascending the stairs last year to accept best actress for “Silver Linings Playbook.”
“If you win tonight,” said DeGeneres, “I think we should bring you the Oscar.”
Best Documentary Short Subject: “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.” The category’s nominees included “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall,” by Chicago area resident Edgar Barens.
Best Costume winner was “The Great Gatsby.”
Best Animated Short Film: “Mr. Hublot.”
Best Visual Effects: “Gravity.”
AP; Contributing Sun-Times staffer Miriam Di Nunzio