LOS ANGELES - With seven Oscars including a history-making best director award for Alfonso Cuaron, the force of "Gravity" exerted itself at the 86th annual Academy Awards.
Even with several awards to go, the 3-D space spectacle was assured to be the most honored film at the Dolby Theatre ceremony hosted nimbly by Ellen DeGeneres. The Mexican Cuaron is the first Latino filmmaker to take best director.
"It was a transformative experience," said Cuaron, who spent some five years making the film and developing its visual effects. "For a lot of people, that transformation was wisdom. For me, it was the color of my hair."
He thanked his star, Sanda Bullock, the sole person on screen for much of the lost-in-space drama: "Sandra, you are Gravity.'" Bullock lost the best actress award to Cate Blanchett, the star of Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine."
First-time winners Lupita Nyong'o and Jared Leto took supporting acting honors in a smooth if safe Oscar ceremony Sunday punctuated by politics, pizza and photo-bombing.
Wearing a dress of Nairobi blue, the 31-year-old Nyong'o, breakout star of the historical drama "12 Years a Slave," accepted the award for best supporting actress. In her feature film debut, Nyong'o made an indelible impression as the tortured slave Patsey.
"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, and so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance," said Nyong'o. Glowing backstage, she cradled her statuette: "I'm so happy to be holding this golden man."
DeGeneres' second stint was a kind of amiable, light-footed correction from last year's "We Saw Your Boob"-singing host Seth MacFarlane.
After warmly needling stars in a dance-free opening monologue, she circulated freely in the crowd. DeGeneres had pizza delivered, appealing to Harvey Weinstein to pitch in, and gathered stars to snap a selfie she hoped would be a record-setter on Twitter, (1.4 million tweets in an hour and still counting). One participant, Meryl Streep, giddily exclaimed: "I've never tweeted before!"
Jared Leto won best supporting actor for his acclaimed, gaunt performance as a theatrical transgender suffering from AIDS in the Texas drama "Dallas Buyers Club." He thanked his mother, his date on the night.
"Thank you for teaching me to dream," said Leto. Later backstage, he passed around his Oscar to members of the press, urging them to "fondle" it. The long-haired actor, who has devoted himself in recent years to his rock band 30 Seconds to Mars, gravely vowed: "I will revel tonight."
Sunday's Oscars hung on a nail-biter of a finish, with the best picture race believed to be between the historical drama "12 Years a Slave," the 3-D space spectacle "Gravity" and the con-artist comedy "American Hustle." DeGeneres alluded to the options in her opening monologue.
"Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave' wins best picture," she said. "Possibility number two: You're all racists."
Though the ceremony lacked a big opening number, it had a steady musical beat to it. To a standing ovation, Bono and U2 performed an acoustic version of "Ordinary Love," their Oscar-nominated song from "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," a tune penned in tribute to the late South African leader Nelson Mandela. Singing his nominated "Happy" from "Despicable Me 2," Pharrell Williams had Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio dancing in the aisles.
Pink was cheered for her rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," part of a 75th anniversary tribute to "The Wizard of Oz." And Bette Midler sang - what else? - "Wind Beneath My Wing" for the in memoriam segment - an especially heartfelt one, considering the deaths of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Harold Ramis, James Gandolfini and others.