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'12 Years a Slave' is the big winner at the 86th Annual Academy Awards, taking home Best Picture. Gannett

The period drama 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar for best picture, Cate Blanchett and Matthew McConaughey took home the top acting awards and Gravity led the field with seven trophies at the 86th annual Academy Awards.

A jubilant Brad Pitt, a producer on 12 Years, embraced director Steve McQueen when the movie's contingent hit the stage to accept the night's top prize. Based on the life of Solomon Northup, a free black man sold into slavery, the film took home three Oscars total.

"Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon," McQueen said. "I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today."

John Ridley won for 12 Years' adapted screenplay, and Hollywood newcomer Lupita Nyong'o capped a Cinderella awards season with a supporting-actress win for her portrayal of an abused plantation worker.

"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," a teary Nyong'o said of her role as Patsey — in her first film, straight out of Yale's drama school. "This has been the joy of my life. I'm certain that the dead standing about you are watching and are grateful, and so am I.

"When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you're from, your dreams are valid."

McConaughey, Blanchett and Jared Leto also added to their impressive Golden Globe and SAG Awards wins in January.

"Sit down, you're too old to be standing!" said Blanchett when taking the stage to accept her best-actress award for Blue Jasmine. "As random and subjective as this world is, this means a lot in a year full of extraordinary performances by women."

Female-centered films aren't "niche" things, she added. "Audiences want to see them and, yes, they make money. The world is round, people!"

McConaughey, honored for his role as an HIV-positive cowboy turned black-market businessman in Dallas Buyers Club, made awards season a lot more interesting this year with a variety of memorable acceptance speeches, and he didn't disappoint while accepting his Oscar.

There are three things he needs every day, he said: someone to look up to (in his case, God); something to look forward to, like his late father "who's up (in heaven) with a big pot of gumbo, a lemon meringue pie (and) probably in his underwear with a cold can of Miller Lite and he's dancing right now"; and something to chase.

"My hero, that's who I chase," McConaughey said. "When I was 15 years old, I had a very important person come to me in my life. I thought about it, it's me in 10 years. So I turned 25 — my hero is me at 35. Every day, every week, my hero is always 10 years away.

"I'm never gonna be my hero. It keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing. Whatever it is we look forward to and to whoever it is we're chasing, to that I say, 'Amen,' to that I say, 'All right, all right, all right,' and to that I say, 'Just keep living.' "

After being away from Hollywood for several years, Leto was named best supporting actor for his portrayal of a transgender AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club.

The actor thanked his mother, a teenage high school dropout and single mom from Louisiana who taught her children "to be creative, work hard and be special." Leto also dedicated his Oscar "to those who have ever felt injustice for who you are or who you love."

Dallas Buyers Club also won the Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling — makeup artist Robin Mathews thanked Leto and co-star McConaughey for "letting us torture you and transform you" — and Catherine Martin won two Oscars, for costume design and production design, for The Great Gatsby, directed by Martin's husband, Baz Luhrmann.

Gravity went into the night tied with a leading 10 nominations with American Hustle — which was ultimately shut out — and the white-knuckle space thriller won best director for Alfonso Cuarón plus original score, cinematography, film editing, sound mixing, sound editing and visual effects.

"It was definitely a transformative experience," Cuarón said of making Gravity. "What really sucks is for a lot of people the transformation was wisdom. For me, it was the color of my hair."

Visual-effects supervisor Tim Webber noted director Cuarón's "audacity and courage" in letting the FX crew work its magic and thanked stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock for "filling our visual effects with life and emotion."

Gravity composer Steven Price shared his win with Cuarón. He said, "You inspired every frame of this and every note I composed."

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