"We're all just trying to make films that touch people," said co-director Chris Buck backstage. "Once in a while, you get lucky."
Though the Oscar ceremony is usually a glitzy bubble separate from real-world happenings, international events were immediately referenced. In his acceptance speech, Leto addressed people in Ukraine and Venezuela.
"We are here and as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we're thinking of you," said Leto.
Russian state-owned broadcaster Channel One Russia said it would not broadcast the Oscars live because of the necessity for news coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. It will instead transmit the Oscars early Tuesday morning, local time.
Venezuelan protesters, via social media, urged Oscar winners to bring attention to their plight. Anti-government protests have roiled the country in recent weeks.
Italy's "The Great Beauty" won the Oscar for best foreign language film. In accepting the award for his rumination on life and Rome's decadence, director Paolo Sorrentino thanked his heroes, including Federico Fellini, Martin Scorsese and soccer star Diego Maradona.
In her opening, DeGeneres gently mocked Hollywood's insularity, referring to the headlines that have swamped the Los Angeles area lately with a slightly less serious news event.
"It has been raining," said DeGeneres. "We're fine. Thank you for your prayers."
ABC, which aired the ceremony, hoped the drama of a razor-thin best-picture race would be enough to entice viewers. The show last year drew an audience of 40.3 million, up from 39.3 million the year before when the silent-film ode "The Artist" won best picture.
There was a sense of deja vu Sunday. As she hit the red carpet, "American Hustle" star Jennifer Lawrence briefly collapsed in a heap of laughter, just as she tripped ascending the stairs last year to accept best actress for "Silver Linings Playbook."
"If you win tonight," said DeGeneres, "I think we should bring you the Oscar."
No delivery was needed, as the night belonged to "12 Years a Slave."
Associated Press writers Anthony McCartney, Lynn Elber, Ryan Nakashima, Andrew Dalton, Nekesa Mumbi Moody and E.J.Tamara contributed to this report.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake--coyle