AFP

HOLLYWOOD-Harrowing historical drama “12 Years a Slave” won the coveted best picture Oscar on Sunday, while 3D space thriller “Gravity” was the top prize winner at a politically tinged Academy Awards with seven.

True-life AIDS activist drama “Dallas Buyers Club” won three Oscars including best actor for Matthew McConaughey, while Australia’s Cate Blanchett won best actress for Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” But 1970s crime caper “American Hustle” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” went home empty-handed from the Oscars, the climax of Hollywood’s annual awards season.

“12 Years a Slave” won three Oscars overall: best picture, best adapted screenplay and best supporting actress for Kenya’s Lupita Nyong’o for her searing turn as a brutalized slave. The movie, which won plaudits for depicting slavery with a raw realism not seen in the past, marks the first time the work of a black director - Briton Steve McQueen - has been honored with best picture glory.

“I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today,” McQueen said. Mexican Alfonso Cuaron won best director for “Gravity,” the first Latin American to win the award. His film - hailed for its jaw-dropping imagery - took six other prizes: best visual effects, sound editing, sound mixing, cinematography, film editing and original score. As widely expected, Jared Leto won the best supporting actor Oscar for his fearless portrayal of a transgender woman suffering from AIDS in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Politics surfaced in his acceptance speech: the actor and rock musician paid tribute to people in troubled Ukraine and anti-government protesters in Venezuela.

“To all the dreamers out there- in places like 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. The 42-year-old also voiced support for marriage equality and paid tribute to the millions of people who have died of AIDS. “Dallas Buyers Club” also won the make-up and hairstyling award, largely for efforts to transform Leto into a coquettish woman. Before the show, Hollywood’s finest paraded on the red carpet, mercifully dry after storm clouds lifted. Nyong’o was one of the shining fashion stars, in a pale blue pleated Prada gown.

Later on, a tearful Nyong’o - who turned 31 on Saturday - earned a standing ovation as she took the stage to accept her prize. She paid tribute to her slave character Patsey, saying: “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.”

Praise for host DeGeneres -

Host Ellen DeGeneres - who quickly earned raves for her second stint as host - opened with a monologue making fun of the storms that hit California on the eve of the Oscars. “It’s been a tough couple of days for us here. It has been raining,” she said, addressing a global audience of hundreds of millions. “We’re fine. Thank you for your prayers,” she dead-panned.

She also made a stinging joke about “12 Years a Slave.” “It’s going to be an exciting night. Anything can happen. So many different possibilities. Possibility No 1: ‘12 Years a Slave’ wins best picture. Possibility No. 2: You’re all racists,” she quipped. Later, she set Twitter ablaze when a “selfie” photo she took with stars including Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence quickly went viral, with more than 2.3 million retweets - a new Twitter record. This year’s Oscars race was one of the most fiercely contested for decades, as a pack of outstanding films campaigned for the ballots of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s 6,000 voting members. The best picture race had been so close that the winner could have come down to only a few votes, under the Academy’s preferential voting system.