By Tim Reid
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron won the Oscar for best director on Sunday for the space thriller, "Gravity," in which an astronaut fights for her survival after being cut loose from her space shuttle.
It was the first Academy Award for Cuaron, 52, and the first best director Oscar for a Mexican. His 3-D film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney mixes dazzling special effects, suspense and human drama.
Accepting the Oscar, Cuaron paid special tribute to Bullock: "Sandy, you are 'Gravity,' you are the soul and heart of the film. You are an amazing collaborator and one of the best people I have ever met."
Shortly after Cuaron's victory, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted: "Extraordinary work. Congratulations!"
Speaking backstage after he collected the Oscar, Cuaron said he hoped his win would help shine a light on the work of other Mexican film makers, and Mexican culture.
"I don't think there is enough attention paid to Mexican culture and what is happening in Mexico," Cuaron said.
Cuaron had been hotly tipped to win the best director category, having swept the prize in other awards ceremonies before Sunday's Oscars, including from the Directors Guild of America.
Cuaron, who as a child wanted to be an astronaut, spent three years with a team developing the film's special effects and on-screen space panoramas, which many critics said broke new ground in the use of 3-D cinematic technology.
Referring to the "transformative" experience he and others undertook in the four-plus years spent making "Gravity," Cuaron, whose hair is graying, said, "For a lot of these people, that transformation was wisdom. For me, it was just the color of my hair."
(Reporting by Tim Reid and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Sandra Maler and Jill Serjeant)