The Academy Awards kicked off by bestowing the best supporting actor Oscar on favourite Jared Leto for his role as a transgender woman in ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ in a night that may yield few surprises apart from the tight best picture race.
Dressed in a tuxedo, returning host Ellen DeGeneres opened the 86th annual Academy Awards taking friendly jabs at nominees, from Jennifer Lawrence for her tripping on the stage last year to Leto. “Boy, is he pretty,” she said.
Leto, who returned to acting after a six-year break with the portrayal of Rayon in the low-budget AIDS drama, thanked his mother and honoured victims of AIDS.
“This is for the 36 million people out there who have lost the battle to AIDS,” Leto said in his acceptance speech.
In one of the strongest years for film in recent memory, the Oscars are expected to be scattered widely among the many acclaimed movies.
But two distinct films have dominated the race for the coveted best picture Oscar, the final award of the night: the slavery drama ‘12 Years a Slave’ is the presumed frontrunner but the space thriller ‘Gravity’ has a strong chance.
Bedecked in gowns, tuxedos and even shorts, the world's top actors and actresses strode down the red carpet right after the sun broke through four days of heavy rain that threatened to put a damper on on Hollywood's top honours.
“It has been raining. We're fine. Thank you for your prayers,” said DeGeneres in making fun of Los Angeles' aversion to rain.
One of the most notable names on the awards season fashion radar this year, best supporting actress nominee Lupita Nyong'o, wore a blue custom-made Prada.
“It's a blue that reminds me of Nairobi and I wanted to have a little bit of home,” said the Kenyan actress who plays the hardworking slave, Patsey, in ‘12 Years a Slave.’
British best actor nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays the slave Solomon Northup in ‘12 Years a Slave,’ showed up in the classic tuxedo, while singer Pharrell Williams wore a Lanvin tux with shorts rather than trousers.
Sunday was the culmination of an unusually long awards season, extended by the Winter Olympics, and for many of the nominees it spelled the end to months of campaigning and years of work on a film.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could make history this year if it chooses ‘12 Years a Slave’ for best picture. It would be the first time that the top film honour goes to a movie by a black director in the 86 years of the Oscars.
Other awards are expected to produce more predictable outcomes, from ‘Gravity’ filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron's likely win of the best director statuette to the virtual shoo-in of ‘Frozen’ for best animated film.
Among the other best picture contenders is 1970s crime caper ‘American Hustle’ from director David O. Russell, which scored 10 nominations. For the second year in a row, Russell has achieved the rare feat of having his actors nominated in all four acting categories. Martin Scorsese's ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ a tale of financial greed and excess, has also been a hit with audiences and critics.
A total of nine films are competing for best picture, including Somali piracy thriller ‘Captain Phillips,’ the adoption drama ‘Philomena,’ the heartland comedy ‘Nebraska,’ the computer-age romance ‘Her,’ and the AIDS activist biopic ‘Dallas Buyers Club.’
Cate Blanchett is heavily favoured to win her first best actress Oscar for her portrayal of the disgraced socialite in Woody Allen's ‘Blue Jasmine.’
Matthew McConaughey is also a solid bet for best actor for his role as the unlikely AIDS activist in ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ for which he lost some 50 pounds (23 kg).
Of the four acting races, the best supporting actress race might be the most compelling. Newcomer Nyong'o is favoured but she faces a serious challenge from Jennifer Lawrence as the loopy housewife in ‘American Hustle.’