The visually stunning "Gravity" won the numbers game at the Academy Awards Sunday night, picking up seven Oscars, including director and editing awards for filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón. The 3-D film, set in outer space, also won a host of awards in the technical categories - but it did not win the No. 1 award. "12 Years a Slave," British director Steve McQueen's groundbreaking, fact-based saga of a free man entrapped and sold into bondage, took the academy's top prize of best picture, along with awards for adapted screenplay and supporting actress.
It used to be rare when best picture and best director split, but this was the result predicted by most prognosticators - and it's something that is happening with more frequency in recent years.
The favorites also prevailed in the acting categories. In what was regarded going in as the night's only sure thing, Cate Blanchett won best actress, for her remarkable performance in "Blue Jasmine," playing a rich woman who has lost her money and is losing her mind. In accepting the award, the witty Australian actress spoke on behalf of women's films and praised her fellow nominees, although it must be acknowledged that the best she could manage for Meryl Streep in "August: Osage County" was: "What can I say?"
Matthew McConaughey - close to a sure thing - won best actor, having picked up a batch of critics and industry awards on his way to Sunday night's ceremony. In the kind of transformation that the academy favors, McConaughey lost more than 40 pounds to play real-life AIDS patient and activist Ron Woodroof in "Dallas Buyers Club." In accepting the award, McConaughey went into a long, eccentric discourse about the things he needs everyday - God, his family, and his own personal hero (always himself, always 10 years from now). The victory confirmed the actor's rise to prominence and artistic significance in just the past few years, and to that I say all right, all right, all right.
It was a good year for movies, and the academy recognized that, which in a sense made it a boring night for the Oscars. The list of nominees was respectable, and the winners were plausible. Such things don't make for dramatic shows or for outraged commentary, but if the academy wants to get it right every so often, who should fault them? If you're looking for something to complain about, however you might observe that the two best movies nominated - David O. Russell's "American Hustle" and Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" - went home with nothing.
DeGeneres crashes Twitter
Still, it says something about the evening that the night's biggest Oscar news happened on Twitter: Ellen DeGeneres crashed the social media site for several minutes, after taking a selfie with several stars and urging viewers to help her break the retweet record.
Jared Leto won the supporting actor Oscar for his role as a transgender woman suffering from AIDS in "Dallas Buyers Club." He paid tribute to his mother who sat in the audience, as the camera revealed just where Leto's good looks came from. Lupita Nyong'o won supporting actress for experiencing the depths of hell as an abused slave in "12 Years a Slave."
Perhaps Jennifer Lawrence really should have won supporting actress for "American Hustle," but that's what happens when you win Oscars you're not supposed to (e.g., Lawrence's best actress victory last year, for "Silver Linings Playbook"). You don't win the ones you should. In any case, Nyong'o was the beneficiary of Emmanuelle Riva and Jessica Chastain's bad luck last year - and she accepted the award with an emotional and exuberant speech.
A film about backup singers, "20 Feet from Stardom," won best documentary, though one has to wonder if the real reason it won is because no one could stand to sit through the year's real best documentary, "The Act of Killing," a difficult film about mass murderers in Indonesia.
Early 'Gravity' momentum
Going into the evening, everyone knew that "Gravity" had a lock on the technical categories. But by the time it won best soundtrack, one had to wonder if maybe the academy liked "Gravity" for things beyond the technical. Maybe "Gravity" was going all the way to best picture. The first strong hint that this was not to be came when John Ridley won adapted screenplay for "12 Years a Slave," against some serious competition.
But the "Gravity" versus "12 Years a Slave" competition provided only mild suspense in an evening that had little, and in which diversions were few. Among the most haunting was the repeated sightings of Somali actor Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips") who, having lost a bid for supporting actor in the ceremony's first minutes, had to sit there and watch the rest of the show. To see his downcast image flashed on screen was to be reminded, over and over, what a long show it was.
Picture: "12 Years a Slave" Read Full Article
Actor: Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Actress: Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Supporting actor: Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Supporting actress: Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"
Directing: Alfonso Cuarón, "Gravity"
Foreign language film: "The Great Beauty," Italy
Adapted screenplay: John Ridley, "12 Years a Slave"
Original sreenplay: Spike Jonze, "Her"
Animated feature film: "Frozen"
Production design: "'The Great Gatsby"
Sound mixing: "Gravity"
Sound editing: "Gravity"
Original score: "Gravity," Steven Price
Original song: "Let It Go" from "Frozen," Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Costume: "The Great Gatsby"
Documentary feature: "20 Feet from Stardom"
Documentary short subject: "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"
Film editing: "Gravity"
Makeup and hairstyling: "Dallas Buyers Club"
Animated short film: "Mr. Hublot"
Live action short film: "Helium"
Visual Effects: "Gravity"