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Oscars 2014: Australians, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity the big winners

The emotional drama 12 Years A Slave won best picture at the 86th Academy Awards while actor Cate Blanchett and costume designer Catherine Martin set new records for Australians at the Oscars.

Blanchett won best actress for Blue Jasmine to be the first Australian to win two acting Oscars.

And Martin became the country's most prolific Oscar winner - with four - when she won both best costumes and best production design with set decorator Beverley Dunn for The Great Gatsby.


At an Oscars where awards went in all directions - including outer space, with eight wins for the philosophical sci-fi movie Gravity - British director Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave took top honours.

His film, based on a 19th-century memoir about Solomon Northup who was hijacked into slavery, capped the Oscars' recognition for movies dealing with the issue of slavery and follows nominations for The HelpLincoln and Django Unchained in the past three years.

"I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery," said McQueen, the British director best known previously for Hunger and Shame. "And the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today."

The film, produced by Brad Pitt and starring best actor nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor who played Solomon Northup, also won best supporting actress for newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, a Kenyan actress who played a brutally treated slave, Patsey, in her film debut. The film also won best adapted screenplay for John Ridley.

"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," Nyong'o said before thanking McQueen for casting her.

"I'm certain that the dead are standing about you and watching and they're grateful and so am I."

Best director went to Mexico's Alfonso Cuaron, who spent more than four years years making the technically ambitious Gravity, in which Sandra Bullock and George Clooney played stranded astronauts.

The sci-fi action movie-cum-philosophic meditation won with eight Oscars. It won best director and swept the technical categories with wins for best cinematography, visual effects, editing, sound mixing and sound editing.

But from an Australian perspective, the 86th awards will be remembered for Blanchett's success nine years after winning best supporting actress for The Aviator.

Blanchett made an emotional, dignified speech that included thanks to Blue Jasmine director Woody Allen, who was faced with a revival of sex abuse allegations during the campaigning for Oscar votes.

Hot favourite after an unbeaten awards season run for playing a New York socialite whose life is disintegrating, Blanchett said that ''as random and as subjective as this award is, it means a great deal in a year, yet again, of extraordinary performances by women''.

Blanchett, who won best supporting actress for The Aviator in 2005, said that "as random and as subjective as this award is, it means a great deal in a year, yet again, of extraordinary performances by women."

She thanked Allen for writing the screenplay and casting her in the film and insisted that audiences wanted to see films with women at their centre.

"I'm so very proud that Blue Jasmine stayed in cinemas as long as it did," she said.

Blanchett also thanked everyone at the Sydney Theatre company, which she described as one of the world's great theatre companies.

"There is so much talent in Australia," she said.

The role was a triumphant screen return after co-directing the Sydney Theatre Company with husband Andrew Upton. She thanked to everyone at the STC, which she described as one of the world's great theatre companies.

At an Oscars smoothly hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, designer Catherine Martin, who is married to director Baz Luhrmann, added two Oscars to the two she won for Moulin Rouge! in 2002.

She won best costumes and best production design, with set decorator Beverley Dunn, for The Great Gatsby.

Having won two Oscars for Moulin Rouge in 2002 - as well as nominations for Romeo + Juliet and Australia - Martin surpassed the three Oscars won by Orry-Kelly for An American in Paris, Les Girls and Some Like It Hot in the 1950s.

Accepting the best costumes Oscar, Martin joked about having her speech tucked in her bra - ''a very Australian thing''. She thanked the team she has been working with for 25 years - busy sewing for the opening of Strictly Ballroom The Musical in Sydney - and Luhrmann.

"He makes it all possible. He dreams the dream," she said.

The other movie with 10 nominations, American Hustle, failed to win a single Oscar.

Matthew McConaughey won best actor for playing an AIDS patient who imports HIV drugs in Dallas Buyers Club – a movie, as he said on the red carpet, that was turned down 137 times over 20 years before it was finally made.

It was a transformative performance in two ways: not only did he lose 18 kilograms to get a gaunt look for the movie, it completed his shift from romantic comedy hunk to serious dramatic actor.

Co-star Jared Leto also had undergone a transformative shift in winning best supporting actor for playing a transgender AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club.

It was a comeback to the movies for the 30 Seconds To Mars singer after four years away from acting. He made an emotional tribute to his mother, who was a teenager when she had two children.