SANTA MONICA, Calif.— For those trying to read the tea leaves, the Oscar race is starting to take shape.
At the Critics Choice Awards on Thursday night, which occurred the same day Oscar nominations were announced, Gravity led the evening with seven awards, followed by American Hustle, which won four.
But it was 12 Years a Slave that won the night's biggest prize, Best Picture. Inside a brightly lit airplane hangar in Santa Monica (as planes occasionally flew overheard), excited screams emanated from the Fox Searchlight tables, where director Steve McQueen's cast was scattered.
"We shot this in 35 days with one camera," said McQueen from the stage, thanking his cast and crew. "It takes a family to make something of worth."
Other big winners of the night, as voted on by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, included Matthew McConaughey for Best Actor, Cate Blanchett for Best Actress andLeonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor in a Comedy.
Onstage, McConaughey thanked his agent for supporting his career transition, while Blanchett put a spotlight on her three sons. "In the best possible way, they couldn't give a (expletive). But," she warned, "you need to be grateful that it is I, not Jasmine French, who is your mother."
DiCaprio went with an apology for his R-rated Wolf of Wall Street. "Thank you to my parents," he said. "I thank you, and I simultaneously apologize to you about everything I did in this movie."
After American Hustle took home the award for Best Comedy and Best Acting Ensemble, Sandra Bullock laughed off her oddly named Best Actress in An Action Movie prize. (Amy Adams won Best Actress in a Comedy.)
"I'd like to thank Jackie Chan, Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude van Damme for teaching me everything I know," joked Bullock. Then, a technical glitch interrupted her speech.
"What the (expletive)!" she joked. "I'm an action hero! You do not do that to an action hero."
Jessica Chastain presented to McConaughey, offering a clue as she peeked into the envelope. "Alright, alright," she said, parroting McConaughey's trademark phrase.
As the pundits expected, Jared Leto won Best Supporting Actor for Dallas Buyers Club. Alfonso Cuaron, who won Best Director, said he was grateful he didn't have a giant ensemble cast to thank, like David O. Russell, as he has trouble remembering names. "There's a reason," he grinned, "I work only with Sandra and George."
But it was Julia Roberts' trademark candor while announcing Best Picture that stole the end of the show.
"My mom texted me: 'I can't find it on TV, did you win?' said Roberts from the stage (who at that point, like Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Lawrence, had lost Best Supporting Actress to a teary Lupita Nyong'o). "And I told her yes, so just stick with that."
Earlier on the red carpet, Nebraska's Bruce Dern was glowing from his Oscar nomination. "It gives you a chance, especially when you're my age, to say, 'I can do this a lot longer. I don't have to stop," he said. "It means that old folks: you're not old. You're just unemployed."
Bradley Cooper, too, was in high spirits from American Hustle's 10 Oscar nominations, embracing Philomena's Steve Coogan (and complimenting his natty suit) on the red carpet. "It feels just as exciting," as last year's nomination for Silver Linings Playbook, said Cooper, who is working on gaining muscle mass for a new role.
Does Cooper pay attention to the critics? "I stopped reading reviews after Wedding Crashers," he said.
Fellow nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, who scored a best actor Oscar nomination, admitted to a recent bout of illness, which had prevented him from participating in the traditional round of congratulatory press calls Thursday morning. "I'm actually over the worst of it," he said.
Aisha Tyler hosted the awards show, which was broadcast on the CW Network. We have a full list of winners from the Critics' Choice Awards available.