Confounding the Oscar pundits who predicted levity over gravity, not to mention levity over "Gravity," "12 Years a Slave" won the Academy Award on Sunday for best film of 2013.
"Gravity," by far the biggest popular success of this year's best picture nominees, scored the most awards, seven, including one for Alfonso Cuaron for best director. The versatile Cuaron is the first Latino to do so in that category.
In addition to its best picture win, "12 Years a Slave" was cited for best supporting actress (Lupita Nyong'o) and best adapted screenplay. John Ridley wrote the screen version of Steve McQueen's sober and meticulously realized account of free-born Northerner Solomon Northup's abduction into slavery in pre-Civil War 19th century America.
Matthew McConaughey, best actor for "Dallas Buyers Club," thanked God and, in a strange, loop-the-loop acceptance speech, his own idealized heroic self. A first-time nominee, McConaughey went up against both repeat nominees (Leonardo DiCaprio, who has yet to win) and a fellow first-timer (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and won for playing AIDS patient and activist Ron Woodroof.
Coming off his drolly engaging stripper routine in "Magic Mike," and his turn as a haunted killer on the run in the undervalued "Mud," McConaughey is on a roll this year. As a brittle socialite fallen on hard times, Cate Blanchett won for her performance in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine." This was the surest sure thing going into the awards ceremony Sunday, with various oddsmakers in America and abroad slotting Blanchett (who previously won a supporting actress for her Katharine Hepburn turn in "The Aviator") as the whopping 1-to-50 favorite.
The evening's biggest loser? "American Hustle." Ten nominations, tied with "Gravity" going in. Blanked.
Emcee Ellen DeGeneres neither won nor lost; she battled her own material to a draw. But more than quality, more than the occasional zinger amid the surprisingly limp material written for DeGeneres, it was money — the billions the big hits bring their makers, one ticket stub or download at a time — that hung in the air at the Oscars Sunday. Not even Nyong'o's beautiful acceptance speech for her supporting actress award could dispel it. You could smell it.
You could smell something in the air about 6:22 p.m. West Coast time, inside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. At 6:22 "Gravity" won its first of seven Oscars of the evening, for visual effects. The film itself is a prolonged and enormously profitable visual effect. Nothing else had a chance.
DeGeneres set up and delivered so many sight gags involving the concept of the selfie, it was as if the Oscars were giving up entirely to Twitter. It's no longer Hollywood's world, a world where moviegoers put their noses up to the window to peer inside for a couple of hours. Now we're living on a planet riddled with fledgling auteurs perpetually shooting a movie, one digital image at a time, starring themselves. DeGeneres' jokes about this cultural shift, this 24/7 narcissism, were game and plentiful but already out of date.
The tweets were the thing Sunday. John Travolta mangles the pronunciation of vocalist and actress Idina Menzel, and within a few minutes, someone sets up a fake-Twitter account for "Adele Dazim" and garners 2,702 followers.
Early on "Gravity" began grinding through most of the major technical and design awards. It's a film, according to The Hollywood Reporter, that may end up making its star, best actress nominee Sandra Bullock, $70 million. That's $10 million per ton of anguish delivered by Bullock on camera.
Still, pound for pound, this was the night of "Gravity." The film has grossed $705 million worldwide, more than the other eight nominees combined so far. Speech after speech credited director Cuaron's tirelessness, his technological breakthroughs. Nobody mentioned the $705 million.
Nobody needed to.