03/03/2014 02:27 EST | Updated 05/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Oscars 2014: 6 highlights from the Academy Awards

Talk show queen Ellen DeGeneres set an affable, populist tone to Sunday night’s Oscar telecast, which — for the most part — was a safe and smooth evening filled with expected wins and movie montages.

Coming a year after Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane was blasted for his Oscar emcee duties (c’mon, what did they expect?), the genial DeGeneres didn’t stray from her celebrity gal-pal reputation, veering into edginess just once at the beginning of the show. She set the pace for the night, where there was no accidental cursing, no wildly unusual acceptance speeches and, really, nothing in the way of shock value.

Still, the evening did have a few choice highlights.

Edgiest joke

The closest DeGeneres came to spice was in the last few of lines from her opener, in which she discussed the last award of the evening. “Possibility one: 12 Years a Slave wins best picture. Possibility two: You’re all racists. [Surprise: the audience laughed!] And now, our first white presenter: Anne Hathaway.”

Audience participation, part 1

It might be upbeat, but original-song contender Happy really didn’t stand a chance against Let It Go from the blockbuster Frozen. Still, ubiquitous singer Pharrell Williams offered a fun performance of the Despicable Me 2 tune, venturing into the starry front-row and grooving with a trio of actress nominees: Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.

Belting out her acceptance

The backup singers portrait 20 Feet from Stardom was a favourite in the documentary feature category and filmmaker Morgan Neville definitely gets kudos for bringing one of its subjects — singer Darlene Love, who has sung with Dionne Warwick, Marvin Gaye and Elvis Presley — onstage with him. Naturally, Love broke out into song and stars like Bill Murray immediately leapt up to give her a standing ovation.

Audience participation, part 2

DeGeneres spent half her appearances in the crowd, knee-deep in stars, including when she gathered some of Hollywood’s buzziest actors for a group selfie (Meryl Streep! Bradley Cooper! Angelina Jolie! Brad Pitt! Julia Roberts! Jennifer Lawrence! Kevin Spacey! Lupita Nyong’o!).

She challenged the viewers at home to make it the most re-tweeted photo ever ("I've never tweeted before!” a giddy Streep declared) and proceeded to break Twitter’s service for more than 20 minutes (for which the company sent out an apology). By 11pm, the record-setting photo had soared past one million re-tweets, besting Barack Obama’s re-election photo-post “Four more years” from November 2012.

Leto wins over the media

Viewers at home saw Dallas Buyers Club’s Jared Leto graciously thank his family onstage as well as acknowledge both AIDS victims and the tumultuous world at large in his best supporting actor speech (Of note: his band 30 Seconds to Mars had recently played in Venezuela and is due to perform in Ukraine in weeks).

But he won over the backstage press room, too, when he passed his Oscar out among the gathered media to anyone who wanted to “fondle” it and encouraged reporters to snap a pic with it. When an Academy rep reminded the room that no photography was allowed backstage, Leto declared: "You guys want to get media, let the media do what they do!” (to a chorus of cheers, of course).

Audience participation, part 3

In another example of DeGeneres showing that stars are real people too, she prevailed with a multi-part sketch involving pizza. She noted that the audience gets hungry mid-show and vowed to order pizza – and did.

A short time later, a somewhat startled (and real) delivery man bearing cheese and veggie pizzas was ushered onstage by DeGeneres and helped her actually distribute them (also amusing: seeing Oscar-winners and contenders gamely lunge for a slice). Subsequently, the host circulated with Pharrell Williams’s infamous hat to collect pizza money, appealing to the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Brad Pitt to pitch in some cash.