LOS ANGELES (AP) - 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 virtual blindness to slavery, instead creating whiter tales like 1940 best-picture winner “Gone With the Wind.” ”12 Years a Slave” is the first best-picture winner directed by a black filmmaker.
“Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live,” said McQueen, who dedicated the honor to those, past and present, who have endured slavery. “This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup.”
The normally reserved McQueen promptly bounced up and down on stage, later matter-of-factly explaining his joy physically took over: “So, Van Halen. Jump.”
A year after celebrating Ben Affleck’s “Argo” over Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences opted for stark realism over more the plainly entertaining candidates: 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.
“It was a transformative experience,” said Cuaron, who spent some five years making the film and developing its visual effects. “For a lot of people, that transformation was wisdom. For me, it was the color of my hair.” To his star Sandra Bullock, the sole person on screen for much of the lost-in-space drama, he said: “Sandra, you are ‘Gravity.’”
But history belonged to “12 Years a Slave,” a modestly budgeted drama produced by Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, that has made $50 million worldwide - a far cry from the more than $700 million “Gravity” has hauled in.
Ellen DeGeneres, in a nimble second stint as host that seemed designed as an antidote to the crude humor of Seth MacFarlane last year, summarized the academy’s options in her opening monologue: “Possibility number one: ‘12 Years a Slave’ wins best picture. Possibility number two: You’re all racists.”
DeGeneres presided over a smooth if safe ceremony, punctuated by politics, pizza and photo-bombing. Freely circulating 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. (It was: Long before midnight, the photo had been retweeted more than 2 million times and momentarily crashed Twitter.) One participant, Meryl Streep, giddily exclaimed: “I’ve never tweeted before!”
But in celebrating a movie year roundly considered an exceptionally deep one, 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.
“It sort of feels like a culmination,” he said backstage.
Leto passed around his Oscar to members of the press backstage, 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.”
Cate Blanchett took best actress for her fallen socialite in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” her second Oscar. Accepting the award, she challenged Hollywood not to think of films starring women as “niche experiences”: “The world is round, people!” she declared to hearty applause.