LOS ANGELES — The Academy Awards started smoothly with a breezy opening from host Ellen DeGeneres and a best supporting actor award to the velvety “Dallas Buyers Club” star Jared Leto.
As expected, Leto won for his acclaimed, gaunt performance as a transsexual in the Texas AIDS drama. He thanked his mother, his date on the night.
“Thank you for teaching me to dream,” said Leto. Later backstage, he passed around his Oscar to members of the press, urging them to “fondle” it. The actor, who had devoted himself in recent years to his rock band 30 Seconds to Mars, gravely vowed: “I will revel tonight.”
Sunday’s Oscars hung on a nail-biter of a finish, with the best picture race believed to be between the historical drama “12 Years a Slave,” the 3-D space spectacle “Gravity” and the con-artist comedy “American Hustle.” DeGeneres alluded to the options in her opening monologue.
“Possibility number one: ‘12 Years a Slave’ wins best picture,” she said. “Possibility number two: You’re all racists.”
Her opening went over well in Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre, which had far more mixed reactions to last year’s “We Saw Your Boobs”-singing host, Seth MacFarlane. She chided Leto (“Boy, is he pretty”) and mocked Jennifer Lawrence for falling on her way onto the red carpet, just as she did when she accepted the Oscar last year for “Silver Linings Playbook.”
When Lawrence hit the carpet and waved to fans, she collapsed in a heap of laughter.
“If you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar,” said DeGeneres to Lawrence, nominated for her performance in “American Hustle.”
Disney’s global hit “Frozen” won best animated film, marking — somewhat remarkably — the studio’s first win in the 14 years of the best animated feature category. (Pixar, which Disney owns, has regularly dominated.) With box-office that recently passed $1 billion globally, the film was sure to be the biggest hit to take home an Oscar on Sunday.
Though the Oscar ceremony is usually a glitzy bubble separate from real-world happenings, international events were immediately referenced. In his acceptance speech, Leto addressed people in Ukraine and Venezuela.
“We are here and as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we’re thinking of you,” said Leto.
Russian state-owned broadcaster Channel One Russia said it would not broadcast the Oscars live because of the necessity for news coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. It will instead transmit the Oscars early Tuesday morning, local time.
Venezuelan protesters, via social media, urged Oscar winners to bring attention to their plight. Anti-government protests have roiled the country in recent weeks.
DeGeneres gently mocked Hollywood’s insularity, referring to the headlines that have swamped the Los Angeles area lately with a slightly less serious news event.
“It has been raining,” said DeGeneres. “We’re fine. Thank you for your prayers.”
After a blustery few days of torrential downpours, Hollywood was ready for smooth sailing — in DeGeneres’ less controversial hosting and a crop of seemingly sure-fire winners — at Sunday’s show.
“Gravity” is expected to lead the ceremony in total awards, cleaning up in technical categories. It won for best visual effects, an award likely to be followed by more for cinematography and directing. Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron is considered a lock for best director for seamlessly marshalling new digital technology to render the lost-in-space drama. He would be the first Latino filmmaker to win the category.
Other early winners included “The Great Gatsby” for best costume design, and best makeup and hairstyling for the low-budget “Dallas Buyers Club.”
ABC, which is telecasting the ceremony, hopes the drama of the best-picture race will be enough to entice viewers. The show last year drew an audience of 40.3 million, up from 39.3 million the year before when the silent-film ode “The Artist” won best picture.