Who won Best Picture Oscars 2014?

The searing slave drama '12 Years a Slave' and 'Gravity' are the night's big winners at the Academy Awards

Owing to its unflinching representation of whippings, rape and lynchings, "12 Years a Slave" was not intended to be easy viewing. But it was continually buoyed by tremendous critical acclaim, and throughout the seemingly endless awards season it maintained momentum even when facing filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón's blockbuster "Gravity" and writer-director David O. Russell's popular con game tale "American Hustle."

McQueen became the first black director to make a best picture winnner, and "12 Years a Slave" was one of several movies last year that explored the often traumatic history of African Americans, a slate that included "42, " "Fruitvale Station" and "Lee Daniels' The Butler."

The subject matter of "12 Years a Slave" sparked several thorny jokes within Hollywood, with host Ellen Degeneres opening the show at the Dolby Theatre by saying, "So many different possibilities. Possibility No. 1: '12 Years A Slave' wins best picture. Possibility No. 2: You're all racists."

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Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ultimately split their ballots among many films, but the Solomonic vote-splitting left "American Hustle, " which entered the evening tied with "Gravity" for the most nominations with 10, without a single statuette.

Proving that "Blue Jasmine" was not a referendum on the personal life of writer-director Woody Allen, Cate Blanchett was named lead actress for her depiction of a society wife whose life is imploding. "I'm here accepting an award in an extraordinary screenplay by Woody Allen. Thank you so much, Woody, for casting me. I truly appreciate it, " Blanchett said.

Matthew McConaughey, who lost some 40 pounds to star in (and persuade reluctant financiers to back) the AIDS drama "Dallas Buyers Club, " was the lead actor winner.

"Every day, every week, every month and every year of my life my hero is always 10 years away, " McConaughey said of how he keeps chasing himself. "I'm never going to be my hero … that's just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing."

PHOTOS: Winners' room | Behind the scenes | Quotes from the stars

And while they handed "12 Years a Slave" the best picture prize, Oscar voters were parsimonious with the rest of their praise. In winning just two other Oscars — it was the recipient of the supporting actress and adapted screenplay statuettes — "12 Years a Slave" matched 2005's "Crash" for taking the best picture honor with only three total wins.

For Degeneres' banter and stunts — serving pizza to Brad Pitt, posing for a selfie with Meryl Streep and Bradley Cooper — the evening was punctuated by several unusually emotional and personal acceptance speeches, including remarks from "12 Years a Slave" supporting actress Lupita Nyong'o, "Dallas Buyers Club" supporting actor Jared Leto and the songwriters of "Let it Go" from "Frozen."

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