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‘12 Years a Slave’ rises up at Academy Awards

Published: Monday, March 3, 2014 11:28 a.m. CDT

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Perhaps atoning for past sins, 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 virtual blindness to slavery. “12 Years a Slave” is the first best-picture winner directed by a black filmmaker.

A year after celebrating Ben Affleck’s “Argo” over Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences opted for stark realism over more the plainly entertaining candidates: the 3-D space marvel “Gravity” and the starry 1970s caper “American Hustle.”

Those two films came in as the leading nominee 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 Latino 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.

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.

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 — the Cinderella of the awards season — 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.

John Ridley won best adapted screenplay for “12 Years a Slave,” and best documentary went to the crowd-pleasing backup singer ode “20 Feet From Stardom.”

Disney’s global hit “Frozen” won best animated film, marking — somewhat remarkably — the studio’s first win in the 14 years of the best animated feature category. (Pixar, which Disney owns, has regularly dominated.) The film’s hit single, “Let It Go,” won best original song.

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