‘12 Years a Slave’ wins best picture and ‘Gravity’ wins 7 times at Academy Awards

All right, all right, all right.

In a tight and crowded Oscar race, things went consistently according to plan Sunday night. But that predictability notwithstanding, some cinema history was made.

The drama “12 Years a Slave” took honors for best picture and Alfonso Cuarón won the Oscar for best director, for the science fiction epic “Gravity,” which scored seven wins on the night. The win for “12 Years a Slave,” directed by British filmmaker Steve McQueen, marks the first time a film by a black director has won best picture; Cuarón, who was born in Mexico City, is the first Latin American filmmaker to win an Oscar for best director.

The acting categories were also populated by shoo-ins who also happened to be highly deserving, beginning with Jared Leto, who early in the ceremony won the award for best supporting actor, for his work in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Lupita Nyong’o won the best supporting actress award for her performance in “12 Years a Slave.” Cate Blanchett won the best actress Oscar for her shattering performance in the Woody Allen film “Blue Jasmine,” and Matthew McConaughey won best actor for “Dallas Buyers Club,” a movie that punctuated an amazing comeback for the actor, who last year delivered equally strong performances in the small film “Mud” and best picture nominee “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

On a night when such Academy Award veterans as Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio and Julia Roberts were nominated, it was first-timers like Nyong’o — who won for her very first movie role — Leto and McConaughey who clearly owned the evening. Nyong’o — who was born in Mexico City, grew up in Kenya and had become a huge favorite with the press and industry insiders during the past few months on the awards circuit — looked radiant while delivering her speech, in which she noted that “all dreams are valid.”

From red carpet falls to rising stars, the 2014 Academy Awards hosted by Ellen DeGeneres was a night to remember. (Casey Capachi/The Washington Post)

Leto, whose performance as a transgendered character in “Dallas Buyers Club” represented something of a comeback after a six-year absence from acting, delivered an equally stirring acceptance speech, during which he thanked his mother, older brother and colleagues on the “Dallas Buyers Club” team; like Nyong’o, he also invoked dreams, especially on behalf of the embattled citizens of Ukraine and Venezuela.

With many of the acting awards seemingly in the bag during the past few months of awards season, the only genuine toss-up was for best picture. In recent days, the race seemed to come down to “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave.” In addition to Cuarón’s directing award, “Gravity” won the technical awards for which it was nominated, including visual effects, sound mixing, sound editing, cinematography and editing. It also won for best musical score. David O. Russell’s “American Hustle,” which along with “Gravity” received 10 Oscar nominations, was shut out entirely.

“The Great Gatsby,” Baz Luhrmann’s 3-D adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, won two awards, for best costumes and production design. “Frozen” won for best animated feature and for the song “Let It Go.” John Ridley earned another win for “12 Years a Slave” with his best adapted screenplay victory.

Washington native Joshua Oppenheimer, whose film “The Act of Killing” was nominated for best documentary feature, saw the award go to the hugely popular “20 Feet From Stardom,” about background singers, including Darlene Love, who sang her thank-you with a few soaring lines from gospel hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

This year’s Academy Awards capped off one of the strongest years for movies in recent memory: 2013 was not only a profitable year for Hollywood, during which the industry raked in more than $10 billion in revenue, but an exceptional one in terms of quality: Among the best picture nominees Sunday were “Her,” (writer-director Spike Jonze took home the award for original screenplay), “Captain Phillips,” “Nebraska” and “Philomena,” all of which received strong reviews (the ninth nominee for best picture, Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” was more divisive).

At a time when studios are increasingly producing sure-things like comic book franchises, young adult series and sequels, the Oscars and awards shows leading up to it have become a crucial marketing tool for the mid-range, adult-oriented films that the industry may otherwise abandon.

If this year’s Oscars carried a message, it was delivered by Sidney Poitier before announcing Cuarón’s award. “Please,” he said, “keep up the wonderful work.” He delivered those words less as a polite request than a heartfelt, urgent plea.

The real Northup was a skilled carpenter and violinist before being captured and sold into slavery. (The Washington Post)

More on the Academy Awards:

TV critic Hank Stuever:  Happily wasting too much time at Ellen’s easy-does-it Oscars show

Full recap:  Oscars 2014

Photos: Academy Awards 2014

Photos: The best moments from the Oscars

Video:  The Oscars in 2 minutes

Full list:  Winners and of nominees 

Ann Hornaday is The Post's movie critic.
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