Hollywood was set for its biggest night of the year yesterday, as two odes to filmmaking — silent movie The Artist and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo — vie for Oscars glory at the 84th Academy Awards.
After months of campaigning and a flurry of lesser prizes, Tinseltown’s annual awards season reaches its high point with the most prestigious honors of them all, the coveted golden statuettes.
Hundreds of millions around the globe will tune in for the ceremony hosted once again by veteran US actor Billy Crystal, after A-listers strut their stuff down the most-watched red carpet in the world.
“Added excitement for #Oscars. One envelope will contain a live scorpion!” Crystal, who has done the job eight times before, joked in a Twitter message ahead of the greatest show in Hollywood.
As usual, the annual march to Oscars coronation has not been without a few twists and surprises. British actor Sacha Baron Cohen, who turned in a subdued performance in Hugo, has ruffled feathers with his apparent plans to promote his upcoming film The Dictator in full faux strongman regalia on the red carpet, flustering the top brass at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The list of presenters is chock full of heavy-hitters — last year’s best actress and actor Natalie Portman and Colin Firth will join Halle Berry, Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie among others.
Scorsese’s Hugo, a visually rich 3D tribute to a French film pioneer, goes into the show with the most nominations, at 11, with black-and-white Hollywood love letter The Artist just behind on 10.
Scorsese is not the only legendary director in the mix — Woody Allen is in the running for best picture honors for his comeback hit Midnight in Paris, and Steven Spielberg will gun for the top prize with War Horse.
Buddies George Clooney and Brad Pitt will duke it out for best actor, but Artist star Jean Dujardin, who has won a slew of awards for his role as a struggling silent-era movie star, could best them both.
Pitt is up for his role as coach Billy Beane in baseball movie Moneyball, while Clooney has been hailed for playing against type in The Descendants, a family drama set in Hawaii that is also in the hunt for best picture glory.
Mexico’s Demian Bichir is on the best actor shortlist for his poignant turn as an undocumented migrant in A Better Life, as is British veteran Gary Oldman for Cold War spy thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The Artist got a boost on Saturday at the Spirit Awards honoring independent film, taking home prizes for best picture, best director for Michel Hazanavicius, best male lead actor for Dujardin and best cinematography.
The French director, fresh off the plane from Paris after his film’s big night at France’s annual Cesars ceremony, said he was starting to feel the heat.
“I’m a little bit nervous ... the outside pressure is rising considerably,” Hazanavicius said after the Spirit Awards ceremony, held in Santa Monica, California.
Meryl Streep could take home her first Oscar in three decades for a powerful turn as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, in a battle against cross-dressing Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs.
Rooney Mara, who plays damaged hacker Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is also in the running for the best actress prize, as is Michelle Williams for her take on Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn.