Three films were considered frontrunners at the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday night, with Gravity and American Hustle earning the most nominations with 10 each while 12 Years a Slave came in a close second with nine nods. In the end, two walked away winners: Gravity technically coming out on top with seven awards (five of those being technical honors, including Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects), and 12 Years a Slave taking three, including the top trophy of the night for Best Picture. (American Hustle got completely shut out.)
Similar to last year, when the Best Picture and Best Director honors were split between two films (Ang Lee’s Life of Pi and Ben Affleck for Argo, respectively), historical passion project 12 Years a Slave triumphed over eight other films – including The Wolf of Wall Street, Captain Phillips, American Hustle and Gravity – in addition to picking up Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o. The win gave both Brad Pitt, who produced it, and director Steve McQueen their first Oscars. Said McQueen: “I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery, and the 21 million who still suffer slavery today.”
Meanwhile, in addition to its technical awards, lost-in-space blockbuster Gravity earned Alfonso Cuarón his first win in the Best Director category, beating out Wolf‘s Martin Scorcese, Hustle‘s David O. Russell and McQueen, who is only the third black person to earn a nod in the category.
With more family-friendly host Ellen DeGeneres, who last helmed the event seven years ago, the Oscars ceremony had a much different tone than last year’s fratboy antics by Seth MacFarlane that ruffled some feathers. “For those of you around the world, it’s been a tough couple of days for us: It’s been raining. We’re fine. Thank you for your prayers,” the host said, referencing the weather that plagued Hollywood on the big night before calling the Oscars the industry equivalent of The Hunger Games. (In keeping with that theme, DeGeneres ordered and handed out pizza to the crowd.)
In the same way DeGeneres was both familiar and refreshing, the ceremony itself swung between the two extremes. First-time winners Matthew McConaughey, for Best Actor, and Jared Leto, for Best Supporting Actor, straddled both sides of the fence for their wins for Dallas Buyers Club – being both expected and a torch-passing moment at the same time. (McConaughey beat out Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale and Bruce Dern while Leto bested Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender and Jonah Hill.)
During a meandering speech that included name-dropping his band 30 Seconds to Mars and thanking his mother and his brother/bandmate, Leto dedicated his award to “the 36 million people who have lost the battle with AIDS, and those of you who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love. I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.” All in all, Dallas Buyers Club won three awards, including Best Makeup & Hairstyling.
In fact, there were several firsts over the course of the night. Spike Jonze won his first golden statuette for Best Original Screenplay for Her, and newcomer Nyong’o took home Best Supporting Actress for her role in 12 Years a Slave, over the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Roberts. “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, so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey,” the actress said before fighting back tears.
On the flipside, repeat winners included two-timer Cate Blanchett, who won Best Actress for Blue Jasmine, despite recently renewed controversy surrounding its director Woody Allen. The actress comically handed out praise for her fellow nominees, which included 18-time nominee Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock, and randomly yelled out: “Julia [Roberts] hashtag #suckit!” before talking about how films featuring women are “not niche; audiences want to see them and they, in fact, earn money.”
In addition to honoring achievements in film, the awards show was filled with musical performances – including, among others, Bette Midler singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” during the in memoriam tribute, and Idina Menzel performing “Let It Go” from Frozen, which won Best Original Song (and made Robert Lopez only the 12th person ever to win an EGOT). Fellow nominees Pharrell (“Happy” from Despicable Me 2), Karen O and Ezra Koenig (“The Moon Song” from Her), and U2 (“Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) also performed.
Other notable moments included Darlene Love earning a standing ovation after belting out a “thank you” song as an acceptance speech for 20 Feet From Stardom, about the unsung achievements of backup singers, which nabbed Best Documentary Feature. The record-breaking Frozen won Best Animated Feature Film. The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life won Best Documentary Short. Best Original Score went to Steven Price for Gravity. And there was a 75th-anniversary tribute to the beloved 1939 film The Wizard of Oz that featured a ruby red-dressed Pink singing “Over the Rainbow.”
The Oscars broadcast even broke a record while airing, when a selfie of DeGeneres surrounded by such stars as Streep, Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Cooper and others become the most re-tweeted tweet in Twitter history, beating President Barack Obama’s “Four More Years” re-election record, by being shared one million times in mere minutes.