Hollywood: The final countdown to the 81st Academy Awards were underway here Saturday, with feel-good movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ poised to romp home with the coveted best picture Oscar.
Less than 48 hours before the entertainment industry’s most glamorous night of the year, workers were putting the finishing touches to their preparations at the Kodak Theater in the heart of Hollywood.
The build-up to this year’s ceremony has been dominated by India-set rags-to-riches fable ‘Slumdog’, which has dominated other awards shows and is considered the overwhelming favorite for the best picture statuette.
Although period drama ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ will start the night with the most nominations, 13, compared to 10 for ‘Slumdog’, experts say that British director Danny Boyle’s film looks unstoppable.
“It would be the biggest upset in modern Oscars history to see ‘Slumdog´ lose,” said Pete Hammond, a veteran awards season pundit and Maxim film critic.
“It hasn’t stumbled once this awards season. It has had an unprecedented sweep. It’s the equivalent of the perfect season in football or baseball,” Hammond said.
Pundits say that ‘Slumdog’ has delighted audiences with its rags-to-riches plot about a Mumbai teaboy who rises out of poverty and enters a television quiz show to win millions and be reunited with the love of his life.
The against-the-odds triumph of the film’s central character is mirrored by the movie’s improbable march towards Oscars glory. Made for only $15 million, the film features a cast of unknown actors and is partially subtitled.
The movie was also very nearly released straight to DVD in the United States last year, a move which would have ruled it out of Oscars contention.
British bookmakers William Hill have priced the film at 1/10, one the of the shortest price best picture contenders in history.
“It’s always been our theory that at the end of the day Hollywood is about putting bums on seats and that this year, an uplifting feelgood movie like ‘Slumdog´ would be the clear favorite,” spokesman Rupert Adams said.
Other rivals in the best picture category are ‘Benjamin Button’, political drama ‘Frost/Nixon’, biopic ‘Milk’ and Holocaust drama ‘The Reader’.
With ‘Slumdog’ and Boyle heavily favored to win best picture and director, pundits are looking to the acting honors to provide suspense when the Oscars begin at the Kodak Theater on Sunday from 5.30pm.
Sean Penn, who plays a trailblazing gay politician in ‘Milk’, and Kate Winslet, who plays a Nazi death camp guard in ‘The Reader’ are the front-runners in the best actor and actress categories.
However Penn faces stiff competition from Mickey Rourke, who won last month’s Golden Globes for playing a washed up prizefighter in ‘The Wrestler’.
Winslet’s hopes of a first Academy Award after missing out on five previous occasions are threatened by two-time Oscar-winner Meryl Streep, with Melissa Leo (‘Frozen River’) tipped as a dark horse.
In the supporting categories, late Australian actor Heath Ledger is poised to become only the second performer in history to win a posthumous Oscar, a year after his death from a drug overdose in New York.
Bookmakers have installed Ledger as the 1/50 favorite to win for his turn as the villainous Joker in Batman blockbuster ‘The Dark Knight’.
In the supporting actress category, Penelope Cruz is favorite the first Spanish actress to win an Oscar for her performance in Woody Allen comedy ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’.
The other element of surprise around Sunday’s show is the new-look format being promised by organizers as they seek to bounce back from 2008 television viewing figures that were the worst in Oscars history.
Show producers have promised tweaks to the format for this year’s event, even withholding the names of Oscars presenters in an effort to build hype.
“It’s going to be a show that takes some bold risks,” said Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.
While organizers seek to put some sparkly into Sunday’s show, the Oscars has not been able to shake off the recession blues ravaging the US economy.
Fewer parties have been scheduled and fashion experts are expecting a less showy tone during Sunday’s red carpet catwalk.