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History rises for "12 Years A Slave" and 86 years of Oscars

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The film world held its collective breath on Sunday night as Will Smith opened the Best Picture envelope. An entertaining night at the Dolby Theatre, venue of the 86th Annual Academy Awards, had gone according to plan. Seconds later, an exhale: "12 Years A Slave" was cemented as the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences' best picture of 2013. Cue Oscar history and oceans of relief among many.

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Steve McQueen probably didn't have the time to soak the historic moment up, but he had just become the first black director to win a Best Picture Oscar. Mr. McQueen was a producer of his film "12 Years A Slave", the powerful and heartbreaking drama based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a New York free man kidnapped into slavery in 1841.

The Best Picture win was a collective reward for an excellent cast, ardently committed producers and a highly-skilled artist and filmmaker whose power in Hollywood became instantly exponential. In a close race The Academy chose artistic magnificence over technical masterpiece, even if the latter numerically dominated, seven Oscars to three. Even without the night's biggest prize "Gravity" made history of its own when Alfonso Cuarón became the first Mexican director to win the Best Director Oscar.

Lupita Nyong'o also made history as the first Mexican winner of a supporting actress Oscar, and only the seventh black actress to win an Oscar. Her heartfelt speech summed up her journey as a first-time actress in Mr. McQueen's film. A production assistant on "The Constant Gardener", which won a supporting actress Oscar for Rachel Weisz in 2006, Ms. Nyong'o wanted to act and got advice from "Gardener" actor Ralph Fiennes.

Cate Blanchett last won an Oscar in 2005 and on Sunday coupled her previous win with a Best Actress triumph for the finest work of her career in "Blue Jasmine". The much-discussed re-allegations against Woody Allen ultimately had no bearing on the outcome, or, may have only further enhanced it. Amy Adams, Ms. Blanchett's main competition, was part of an ignominious shut-out for "American Hustle", which had been nominated for ten Academy Awards.

Jared Leto won for his supporting work as the transgendered Rayon in "Dallas Buyers Club". In the same film Matthew McConaughey won best actor playing Ron Woodruff, a real-life homophobe afflicted with HIV/AIDS. Mr. McConaughey, who in 2013 hadn't been nominated despite four strong performances in 2012, got his due in a year where he was also impressive in "Mud" and "The Wolf Of Wall Street". Sunday was the first time in ten years that a film had both lead and supporting actor Oscar winners. "Mystic River" saw both Sean Penn and Tim Robbins win Oscars in 2004.

John Ridley became only the second black person to win a screenplay Oscar when he won best adapted screenplay for"12 Years A Slave" on Sunday. Geoffrey Fletcher was the first in 2010 for "Precious". Spike Jonze won an original screenplay Oscar for "Her".

Other significant winners:
Best Animated Feature: "Frozen"
Best Documentary Feature: "20 Feet From Stardom"
Best Foreign Language Film: "The Great Beauty"
Best Editing: "Gravity"
Best Cinematography: "Gravity"

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Omar P.L. Moore is a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. He is the editor and creator of The Popcorn Reel movie review/interview website. He is on Twitter @popcornreel. He can also be reached at editor@popcornreel.com, read at www.popcornreel.com and seen reviewing films at www.youtube.com/popcornreel.

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