No one is ever calm backstage at the Oscars, except maybe Brad Pitt. On March 2, the makers of 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture, then rushed into the wings amid a frenzy of well-wishers. The film's British director, Steve McQueen, looked delirious and elated but also a little lost in the chaos. Pitt, who acted in the movie and served as a producer, was happily tipping back a silver flask. He handed it to McQueen, who took a long, deep draft. Then Pitt reached out, grabbed the director's face in both hands, and planted a Bugs Bunny-style smackeroo full on his mouth. ''I promised you that if we got here,'' Pitt said, grinning, and then downed another gulp from the flask.
That kiss wasn't exactly the sailor tilting back the nurse on V-J Day, but it did mark the end of a long, hard-fought battle between two formidable survivor tales: 12 Years, the true account of one man's escape from bondage in the antebellum South, and Gravity, the technological marvel about an astronaut trapped in orbit while enduring a harrowing storm of debris. In the tightest Best Picture race in years, Gravity took home the most gold, racking up awards in seven categories, including Directing for Alfonso Cuarón, but it was 12 Years that nabbed the top honor.
For months, Oscar prognosticators (including EW) had speculated that 12 Years might be this year's Brokeback Mountain a challenging film that some Academy members would find too agonizing to watch. Brokeback lost to the more crowd-friendly Crash in 2006, but this year the fates were reversed and the so-called difficult film won. Appropriately, its journey ended with two dudes and a kiss.
It was a good year for the Academy Awards all the way around. Ratings for the telecast jumped 6 percent over last year, when producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan first oversaw the show. This time, the program had its third year-over-year boost, and was the highest-rated entertainment broadcast in more than a decade. Maybe it was the appeal of host Ellen DeGeneres, or the who-will-win tension of the Best Picture race, or the high wattage of nominees such as Jennifer Lawrence and Matthew McConaughey. It couldn't have hurt that the ubiquity of social media made this a year that we could all share the Oscars in every sense of the word: Stars posted Instagram photos, DeGeneres broke the Internet with her star-studded selfie, and according to Twitter, there were 17.1 million Oscar-related tweets between the red carpet and the first hours after the show.