LOS ANGELES — 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.
The British director dedicated the honor to those past sufferers of slavery and "the 21 million who still endure slavery today."
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 nomination-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 Hispanic winner.
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. It marks the first time a film directed by a black filmmaker has won best picture.
Host Ellen DeGeneres, in a nimble second stint that seemed designed to be 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). One participant, Meryl Streep, giddily exclaimed: "I've never tweeted before!"
But in celebrating a movie year roundly called an exceptional 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. 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."
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.
Draped in Nairobi blue, Lupita Nyong'o 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.
"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 Patsy for her guidance," said Nyong'o. She also thanked director Steve McQueen: "I'm certain that the dead are standing about you and they are watching and they are grateful, and so am I."