Action time for Oscars

2004-02-29 21:12
Hollywood - Hollywood was set Sunday to hold its glitziest annual bash, the Academy Awards ceremony, with the final instalment of the Lord of the Rings tipped by pundits to snatch the biggest prize - the coveted best picture Oscar.

The 76th annual Academy Awards look set to be overrun by the blockbuster's hobbits and orcs of Middle Earth.

Its director Peter Jackson was expected to win the best director trophy for the third instalment of the epic fantasy.

The film was likely to walk away with an impressive haul of statuettes by evening's end, having been nominated for a total of 11 awards.

Up to one billion TV viewers across the globe will tune in to see cinema's top honours awarded in a ceremony hosted by comedian Billy Crystal and featuring a star-studded line-up of presenters and performers.

If The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King does win the ultimate prize of best picture, it would set a precedent as the only fantasy movie in the Academy Awards' 76-year history to do so.

As the hobbits pressed their tuxedos, Hollywood's royalty were breaking out their designer outfits and polishing their jewels for the world's biggest fashion show - the flashbulb-lit stroll up the Oscars' red carpet.

Even fears of rain in usually arid Los Angeles could not dampen preparations for the show at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, where a rain tent was on standby to shield $20 000 dollar gowns from spluttering skies.

But after months of preparation and nail-biting in Hollywood over who will walk off with the golden statuettes, some of the traditional Oscars suspense was absent from the final hours of this year's race.

It was diluted by a crop of clear front-runners in the race for the major awards, by controversy over Mel Gibson's new film, The Passion of the Christ, and by a calendar change that brought the show forward by a month.

And South African beauty Charlize Theron is strongly tipped to win best actress for her transformation into a harsh-faced prostitute and serial killer in Monster, while former bad boy Sean Penn leads the best actor race for his role as a dying man in Clint Eastwood's dark Mystic River.

Tim Robbins was the clear favourite for best supporting actor for Mystic River, while Renee Zellweger is favoured to make good on her third consecutive Oscar nomination and win best supporting actress for the Civil War drama Cold Mountain.

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