March 3 (Bloomberg) -- “12 Years a Slave,” the film about a free black man kidnapped into slavery in the pre-Civil War south, was crowned best picture of 2013 in an Oscars ceremony where the thriller “Gravity” led with seven awards.
The two films emerged as big winners at the 86th Academy Awards, broadcast last night in a live ABC telecast from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Ellen DeGeneres, in her second turn as Oscars host, brought the 3-hours-plus show into the social-media age by posting a group photo of actors that briefly crashed the Twitter.com service.
The pre-Oscar buzz was on target this year. Alfonso Cuaron won the Oscar for directing “Gravity,” a visual effects spectacle with Sandra Bullock starring as an astronaut struggling to survive a disaster in space. “12 Years a Slave,” based on a true story, was the best-picture favorite because of its dramatic performances and gripping depiction of life on a Louisiana plantation.
“This heroic story of a man in this inhumane situation,” Brad Pitt, a co-star and producer of “12 Years a Slave,” said backstage after the ceremony. “It’s counterintuitive to the way we’re making films today.”
While “Gravity,” from Warner Bros., garnered Oscars for its cinematography, music and visual effects, in the acting categories edgier, smaller-budget films won out. “12 Years a Slave” and “Dallas Buyers Club” each won three Oscars.
Matthew McConaughey won the best actor Oscar for his role in “Dallas Buyers Club,” about an oil worker with AIDS who helps others infected skirt normal medical channels to get drugs they need. Jared Leto won best-supporting actor for playing a cross-dressing AIDS patient in the film.
Cate Blanchett captured the best actress award for her role as a socialite who loses everything in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” Lupita Nyong’o won a supporting Oscar for her role as an abused field hand in “12 Years a Slave.”
This year’s crop of best-picture hopefuls underscored the role of independent filmmakers in the Academy Awards race as Hollywood studios produced fewer films and focused on franchises. Five of the nine nominees were financed outside of the traditional studio system.
Based on a screenplay started in 1992 and optioned at one point by Universal Pictures, “Dallas Buyers Club” was stuck in development for years until 2012. Texas chemical trader Joe Newcomb helped finance the $5.6 million picture weeks before shooting began. The film was distributed by Focus Features, part of Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures.
In “12 Years a Slave” Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who is abducted and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War U.S. Michael Fassbender co-stars as a cruel slave owner and Brad Pitt is featured as the Canadian abolitionist who changes Northup’s life.
Among its three Oscars, the film’s writer John Ridley won the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay, based on the 1853 story by Northup. “12 Years a Slave” was distributed in the U.S. by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
The other writing award went to Spike Jonze for his original screenplay “Her,” about a writer who develops an emotional relationship with the sultry, disembodied voice of a computer operating system.
In a first, DeGeneres used social media to hype the Oscars telecast right from the show, posting the group photo that also included Meryl Streep, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Spacey, Leto, Nyong’o and others.
The post, sent on a smartphone made by show sponsor Samsung Electronics Co., was retweeted more than 536,000 times within half an hour. Twitter was momentarily disabled for some users and the shot quickly broke the record for most-retweeted post.
“We crashed and broke Twitter,” DeGeneres said later from the stage. “We made history.”
The telecast attracted an average of 43 million viewers, up about 6 percent from last year, for its biggest audience in 10 years, ABC said today, based on Nielsen data.
Leto, the supporting actor winner for his role in the AIDs saga “Dallas Buyers Club,” dedicated his award in part to “the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS” and expressed concern over social unrest in other countries.
“To all the dreamers around the world watching this in places like the Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say we are here and as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we’re thinking of you tonight,” Leto said.
Walt Disney Co.’s “Frozen” won for best animated feature film and original song, underscoring the resurgence of the company’s flagship animation studio, which is often overshadowed by its Pixar sibling. The picture has taken in more than $1 billion in worldwide box office sales, according to researcher Box Office Mojo.
The composers of “Let It Go,” Robert Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez, thanked Disney Animation’s chief creative officer John Lasseter and sang “Happy Oscars to you. Let’s do ‘Frozen 2.’”
“Gravity” composer Steven Price won for best original score. Italy’s “The Great Beauty” took home the award for best foreign-language film.
Revenue at the U.S. box office is up almost 10 percent this year even as snow and ice storms closed theaters in many parts of the country, said Gerry Lopez, chief executive officer of AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., the nation’s second-largest theater chain.
“What this Oscar slate has done, it has maintained the interest of people, even as we have had this horrible weather, demand has remained steady,” Lopez said.
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