Stranded in space, a scientist must scrape together means to survive from destroyed, orbiting satellite scraps. Kidnapped from his family and forced into slavery, a man struggles to regain his freedom. These two tales of survival battled for Best Picture at the 86th Academy Awards on March 2. “12 Years A Slave” won Best Picture while Alfonso Cuaron took home best director for “Gravity” in a night of tears, surprises and selfies.
“Gravity” led the pack in terms of numbers, taking home seven statues. The juggernaut dominated the technical categories, winning five of the six awards for which it was nominated. Cuaron made history as the first Hispanic to ever win the Best Director Academy Award.
Making similar history was Steve McQueen, the first black filmmaker to win Best Picture. Solomon Northup, the protagonist of the extraordinary true story of “12 Years A Slave,” was honored in the speeches of each of the film’s three wins. As well as Best Picture, Jon Ridely was awarded Best Screenplay and Lupita Nyong’o won Best Supporting Actress for her visceral portrayal of Patsy, a tortured slave whose master has taken a particular liking to her. A roar of applause spread through the audience as her win was announced, prompting a standing ovation from her peers. The exuberant Nyong’o thanked her character, aware of the serious matter that has given her such success.
“It does not for one moment escape my attention that so much joy in my life has come from so much pain in someone else’s,” Nyong’o said in her speech.
Similarly aware of the hardships that brought their victories were some of the winners from “Dallas Buyers Club.” The movie tells the story of homophobic electrician Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) who, having been diagnosed with AIDS, is forced to team up with transgender Rayon (Jared Leto) to become a leading provider of a black market treatment for the disease. McConaughey and Leto won Best Actor and Supporting Actor, respectively, completing McConaughey’s career resurgence of the last two years and breaking Leto’s musician/heartthrob image.
Cate Blanchett won Best Actress for her role in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” bringing her steamrolled campaign from the rest of the awards season to its logical conclusion.
The alternative love story, “Her,” was the surprise winner of Best Original Screenplay, prompting Spike Jonze to give a suitably off-the-wall acceptance speech to his invisible friends who accompanied him to the stage. The win blocked the all-star “American Hustle” from winning a single award despite its 0 nominations, including nods in each acting category.
Hosted with efficiency by Ellen Degeneres, the ceremony itself was safe and lighthearted in the wake of last year’s woefully offensive opening number from Seth MacFarlane, “We Saw Your Boobs.” Degeneres’ insistence on taking selfies throughout the night wore a little thin for some, but that did not stop the night from being one of gratitude and jubilance. Memorable moments included Alfonso Cuaron’s emotional dedication to his wife and Steve McQueen’s literal jump for joy following his acceptance speech for Best Picture. This year’s awards were dominated by minority players and by little films that could, causing audiences to wonder if this new found diversity is here to stay.