Leto, who had taken a six-year break from acting before tackling the film, picked up the evening's first award — best supporting actor — for his turn as an HIV-positive transgender prostitute.
In addition to paying special tribute to his mother and brother, the actor and rocker also referenced AIDS victims and current zones of political unrest in his speech.
"To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight in places like Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say we are here and, as you struggle to make your dreams happen [and] to live the impossible, we’re thinking of you tonight," Leto declared.
"This is the for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS and to those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world for you."
The film also picked up an Oscar for its makeup and hair-styling.
Other early winners include:- Costume design: Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby.
- Animated short film: Mr. Hublot.
- Animated feature film: Frozen.
The nine films vying for the coveted best-picture trophy are:- 12 Years a Slave.
- American Hustle.
- Captain Phillips.
- Dallas Buyers Club.
- The Wolf of Wall Street.
Heading into the ceremony, the 70s-era crime caper American Hustle and the eye-popping space tale Gravity lead the race with 10 nominations each. The searing 12 Years a Slave and scrappy Dallas Buyers Club are also front-runners.
Canadians vying for Oscar gold tonight include:- Dallas Buyers Club editors Martin Pensa of Montreal and Jean-Marc Vallée (under the pseudonym John Mac McMurphy).
- Musicians Owen Pallett and Arcade Fire for the original score of the film Her.
- Montreal-based visual effects artist Chris Lawrence (Framestore) for Gravity.
- Toronto-born sound mixer Andy Koyama for Lone Survivor.
- Canadian-born producer David Gerson for the foreign-language contender Omar (Palestine)
- Montreal-based filmmaker Malcolm Clarke for the The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, nominated for documentary short subject.
The Oscars are the culmination of the annual movie awards season. The star-studded, lengthy televised gala will be broadcast live to more than 200 countries and is typically watched by more than 30 million people.
Hosted by talk show queen Ellen DeGeneres, the 86th Academy Awards show is Sunday, March 2, at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles and will air live on ABC and CTV.