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80th ceremony of the Oscars gets underway

Latest update : 2008-02-25

The 80th Academy Awards are getting under way Sunday night. The latest Coen brothers' offering "No Country for Old Men" a sombre contemporary Western is the favourite contender for the top prize.

Final preparations were being made Sunday ahead of the 80th Academy Awards, where a crop of films notable for their grim, dark themes were expected to dominate the Oscars top honors.

After months of uncertainty during the Hollywood writers strike, the movie industry's biggest party of the year will get underway as planned at 5:00 pm on (0100 GMT Monday) at the Kodak Theatre.

Streets around the venue were being cordoned off as authorities prepared to drape a security blanket over the neighborhood that is normally packed with tourists.

Around 3,400 guests comprising hundreds of A-list celebrities and movie industry powerbrokers will descend on the red carpet on Sunday, although forecast rain could dampen the party atmosphere.

The awards themselves are expected to be carved up between several violent, bleak movies, with the eight-times nominated "No Country for Old Men" heading the field along with "There Will Be Blood."

"There Will Be Blood," an edgy movie about a tyrannical oil prospector, is joined in the best picture category by legal thriller "Michael Clayton," historical drama "Atonement" and comedy "Juno."

But after scoring a sweep of the movie industry's professional awards -- seen as key Oscar indicators -- Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men" looks unstoppable as the best picture winner.

Bookmakers have made the film a 1/3 favorite while the Coens are backed at 1/4 to scoop the best director prize.

Pundits say the expected success of "No Country for Old Men" indicates the willingness of the Academy of Motion Picture Art and Science's 5,829 voters to reward quality film-making regardless of the level of violence.

"The old days of 'The Sound of Music' and 'Oliver' winning best picture are gone, at least for the time being," said Tom O'Neil, an awards season pundit with the Los Angeles Times'

"It's going to be the second year in a row that a best picture winner has won where all guns have been blazing," O'Neil added, recalling Martin Scorsese's win in 2007 for gangster movie "The Departed."

Beyond the contests for best picture and best director clear front-runners have emerged in most of the acting categories.

Daniel Day-Lewis is regarded as a shoo-in to scoop the second best actor statuette of his career for playing an oil baron in "There Will Be Blood," ahead of fellow nominees that include George Clooney for "Michael Clayton" and Tommy Lee Jones for "In the Valley of Elah."

However, O'Neil cautioned that the widely popular Clooney may yet pull off a shock. "In the history of the Oscars there is usually one absolutely jaw-dropping upset," O'Neil said.

"'Michael Clayton' is a very popular film and the reason for that is Clooney. That could carry him."

The best actress award is expected to be a straight fight between British veteran Julie Christie, who plays a woman grappling with Alzheimer's in "Away from Her," and France's Marion Cotillard, nominated for her startling portrayal of tragic chanteuse Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose."

In the supporting categories, Javier Bardem is poised to become the first ever Spaniard to win an acting Oscar for his performance in "No Country for Old Men," where he plays a psychopathic hit-man whose specialty is executing victims with a slaughterhouse cattle-gun.

But the race for best supporting actress is less clear-cut. Australia's Cate Blanchett, who is also nominated in the best actress category, had been the early favorite following her gender-bending performance as music legend Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There."

A heavily pregnant Blanchett picked up an eve-of-Oscars boost on Saturday when she won the best supporting actress prize at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica.

"It's kind of cruel to make a pregnant lady waddle this far," Blanchett joked as she collected her prize.

The Spirit Awards, seen as a laidback alternative to the Oscars aimed at honoring independent films, saw three top honors go to Academy Awards best picture nominee "Juno."

However, there was less glory at another awards ceremony on Saturday -- the Razzies -- the annual salute to the very worst Hollywood has to offer.

The awards were dominated by Lindsay Lohan and Eddie Murphy. Lohan scooped a record-equalling eight Golden Raspberries (Razzies) for her critically panned box-office flop "I Know Who Killed Me."

Veteran funnyman Eddie Murphy meanwhile scored a rare treble of acting Razzies for his trio of performances in the comedy "Norbit," which once again saw him don latex and make-up to play multiple characters.

Date created : 2008-02-24