The frontrunners came through in what played out as one of the most predictable Academy Awards ever, with Steve McQueen’s powerful drama “12 Years a Slave” taking home the Best Picture Oscar and “Gravity” helmer Alfonso Cuarón winning Best Director.
“Thank you for this incredible honor to be bestowed on our film tonight,” said “12 Years a Slave” producer Brad Pitt before introducing the film’s director, “the indomitable Steve McQueen,” who said the most important message of Solomon Northop’s story is it’s “not just important to survive, but to live.”
Cuarón’s Best Director win marked the leading seventh Oscar of the night for his sci-fi epic, following a sweep in the technical awards (Cinematography, Editing, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing; it also won for Score) in a landmark night for a much-maligned genre. “Gravity” has much rewritten the book on cinematic spectacle, taking Hollywood technical innovation to amazing new heights — all the way up to outer space.
The top acting prizes, meanwhile, went to the heavily favoredMatthew McConaughey (Best Actor for “Dallas Buyers Club”),Cate Blanchett (Best Actress for “Blue Jasmine”), Jared Leto(Best Supporting Actor for “Dallas Buyers Club”), and Lupita Nyong’o (Best Supporting Actress for “12 Years a Slave”).
McConaughey’s seething portrayal of Ron Woodroof, a hard-living electrician turned revolutionary drug smuggler and distributor after being diagnosed with AIDS, proved that complete and total dedication to a role — which included losing over 47 pounds — can most definitely pay off.
“All of these performances were impeccable, I didn’t see a false note in them,” said McConaughey of his fellow Best Actor nominees before thanking God, his late father, his present-in-the-audience mother, his two older brothers, his wife, Camila — and his kids, whom he acknowledges as the people he wants to make “the most proud of me.”
And yes, McConaughey closed his speech with his signature line, “All right, all right, all right,” to the delight of the audience.
Cate Blanchett took home the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown (or five) in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” Blanchett took pretty much every emotion — and perhaps even invented a few new ones — to glorious extremes in Allen’s bittersweet valentine to the 1 percent.
The ever-classy Blanchett gave kudos to her fellow nominees (including the absent Judi Dench) and thanked her writer-director, Woody Allen — and the “audiences who went to see [the film],” proving to Hollywood that “films with female leads make money” and that “the world is round, people.”
The night’s first big winner was McConaughey’s “Dallas Buyers Club” co-star Leto, who snagged the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Rayon, Ron Woodroof’s transvestite business partner and confidant.
Leto began his speech with a shout-out to his date for the night, his mother, and finished with a nod to the civil unrest around the world. “I just want to say, I love you, Mom. Thank you for teaching me to dream. … To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight in places like the Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say we are here and as you struggle to … to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible. … We’re thinking of you tonight.”
Backstage, he allowed the journalists in the interview room to touch his trophy after making sure “no one has swine flu.”
Jennifer Lawrence didn’t have to worry about tripping on the stairs for a second time, as the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress went to Lupita Nyong’o for her performance in “12 Years a Slave.” Nyong’o stunned audiences with her portrayal of Patsey, the young female slave who befriends Solomon Northop (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and endures the cruel “attentions” of plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).
“YES!” exclaimed Nyong’o as she took the stage to a rousing ovation, saluting the story of Patsey and giving thanks to her director, Steve McQueen, tearfully revealing that the “12 Years a Slave” experience has been “the joy of her life.” She also referred to Michael Fassbender as her “rock” and thanked her family (and the Yale School of Drama) for their “training.”
“12 Years a Slave” also took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, with writer John Ridley tearfully acknowledging his beginnings as a sitcom writer before thanking the cast, crew and his own family for the opportunity to tell Northop’s story on the big screen.
Other writing honors went to Spike Jonze, who won Best Original Screenplay for “Her,” the near-future sci-fi fable chronicling the unorthodox but completely believable and insightful romance between a letter writer (Joaquin Phoenix) and his highly advanced computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). There have been speculations that “Her” was inspired by Jonze’s difficult breakup with fellow Oscar winner Sofia Coppola — if only all divorces could find closure with Oscar wins.
Other major awards: The Disney mega-hit “Frozen” predictably walked away with Best Animated Feature and beat U2 for Best Original Song with “Let It Go.” The win made one of the song’s co-writers, Robert Lopez, the youngest member of the EGOT club, adding Oscar to previous Emmy, Grammy and Tony wins.
The ode to backup singers “20 Feet From Stardom” took Best Documentary (with a speech capped off by an impromptu a capella by one of the film’s great subjects, Darlene Love), and Italy’s “The Great Beauty” won Best Foreign-Language Film.
Somewhat surprisingly, “The Great Gatsby” took home the two Oscars for which it was nominated: Costume Design and Production Design. As of the 2:20 mark in the ceremony, that was more Oscar wins than either “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave,” which were also nominated in those categories.
The night’s biggest dud? “American Hustle,” which had 10 nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and all four acting categories — and zero wins.
The night opened with a bang with host Ellen DeGeneres’s opening monologue, which acknowledged L.A.’s rather bizarre recent rainy weather (“Thank you for your prayers”) and featured some playful pokes at the Hollywood elite that made up the audience, including pointing out the general lack of college graduates in the room and reminding Lawrence of her now-infamous tripping as she walked up the stairs to accept her Best Actress Oscar last year (a “stunt” J.Law recreated as she got out of the car upon arriving at the red carpet this year).