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Oscars 2014: Five things to know

By Todd Leopold, CNN
updated 7:39 AM EST, Mon March 3, 2014
Director Steve McQueen, left, celebrates with the cast and crew of "12 Years a Slave" as they accept the Academy Award for best picture on Sunday, March 2. Director Steve McQueen, left, celebrates with the cast and crew of "12 Years a Slave" as they accept the Academy Award for best picture on Sunday, March 2.
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2014 Oscars: Show highlights
2014 Oscars: Show highlights
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2014 Oscars: Show highlights
2014 Oscars: Show highlights
2014 Oscars: Show highlights
2014 Oscars: Show highlights
2014 Oscars: Show highlights
2014 Oscars: Show highlights
2014 Oscars: Show highlights
2014 Oscars: Show highlights
2014 Oscars: Show highlights
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2014 Oscars: Show highlights
2014 Oscars: Show highlights
2014 Oscars: Show highlights
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Despite obstacles, "12 Years a Slave" takes Oscar's big prize
  • Ellen DeGeneres sets record for tweet with a star-studded selfie
  • Best supporting actress winner Lupita Nyong'o speech an Oscar standout

(CNN) -- The 86th Academy Awards are in the record books. Here are five things that struck us about Sunday's broadcast:

1. History for "12 Years a Slave."

The subject matter -- the chronicle of a slave in 19th-century America -- was challenging, to say the least, more the stuff of educational documentaries than major motion pictures. Moreover, "12 Years a Slave" did not turn away from the brutality noted in Solomon Northup's memoir. It lacked a major star (except perhaps Brad Pitt in a small role), was made by a black British director and starred a black British actor. But the searing film was rewarded with three Oscars Sunday night -- including the big prize, best picture.

"This is for all the people who have endured slavery, and the 21 million people who still endure slavery today," director Steve McQueen said in his acceptance speech.

2. The most tweeted photo ever.

Barack Obama, move aside -- you're now second to Ellen DeGeneres. During Sunday's show, the comedian and Oscar host went into the audience to shoot a selfie featuring some of her famous friends. The resulting picture included DeGeneres, Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong'o and her brother Junior, Meryl Streep, Bradley Cooper and Jared Leto's eye. (Cooper took the picture.) The 2012 photo of Barack and Michelle Obama was retweeted more than 778,000 times. The Oscar picture had exceeded 2 million before 1 a.m. ET Monday -- and put a strain on the social media service for a short time. The motion picture academy apologized for the traffic jam -- though its apology was retweeted "only" about 4,000 times.

3. Lupita Nyong'o's "golden statue."

There were few memorable speeches at Sunday's awards, but newcomer Nyong'o -- who won best supporting actress for "12 Years a Slave" -- gave a standout.

Paying tribute to Patsey, the enslaved woman she portrayed in the film, the 30-year-old actress at times struggled to keep her composure. "It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is because of so much pain in someone else's," she said. "When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child: No matter where you come from, your dreams are valid."

4. A big night for "Gravity."

"Gravity," Alfonso Cuaron's film about a space mission gone wrong, didn't win best picture, but it did the best by far of any nominated film, winning seven Oscars altogether. Though most were in technical categories, the film won a particularly sweet prize: best director for Cuaron, who spent four years putting his heart and soul into the technically demanding film, dazzling even the special-effects community.

Cuaron is the first Latin American to win best director. One wonders what he'll do next. Always restless, his films have included a story set on a dying Earth ("Children of Men"), a Harry Potter film ("Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"), a moving drama set in modern Mexico ("Y Tu Mama Tambien") and an adaptation of a children's classic ("A Little Princess").

Incidentally, there were two films with 10 nominations. "Gravity" was one. The other? "American Hustle," which went 0-for-10.

5. A tame and unsurprising show.

For the most part, the Oscar prognosticators were right: With the possible exception of Nyong'o, who beat Jennifer Lawrence for best supporting actress, all the winners were expected.

Perhaps more surprising was the overall flatness of the show, which felt as sluggish as its 3½-hour running time. There were no spectacular song-and-dance numbers and few startling moments beyond Nyong'o's speech and Darlene Love's impromptu performance of the gospel song "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." Even DeGeneres wasn't always sharp. Her jokes were uneven, and some of her stunts -- notably an attempt to buy pizza for the audience -- didn't quite pay off.

However, give the host credit: She's got that record-setting selfie. As best actress winner Cate Blanchett might say to all the complainers, "Suck it."

The list of winners

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