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Slumdog Millionaire closing in on Oscars glory

world Updated: Feb 22, 2009 12:21 IST

AFP
Highlight Story

Final preparations for the Oscars were being made in Hollywood on Sunday, with uplifting drama

Slumdog Millionaire

poised to romp home in the race for the coveted best picture prize.

The red carpet was being vacuumed and streets surrounding Hollywood's Kodak Theater were sealed off to the public with the 81st edition of the Academy Awards less than 24 hours away.

The build-up to this year's ceremony has been dominated by the Bollywood-inspired 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 is unbeatable.

"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."

Pundits say Slumdog has delighted audiences with its rags-to-riches plot about a Mumbai teaboy who rises out from 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 dollars, 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, making it one 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 told AFP.

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 5:30 pm (0130 GMT Monday).

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.

Rourke received an eve-of-Oscars morale-boost here Saturday when he won best actor at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Meanwhile, 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. Like Rourke, Cruz was a winner at the Spirit Awards in Santa Monica on Saturday.

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.

As Hollywood's powerbrokers and A-list prepared to descend on the red carpet, the less glitzy Razzie awards were held just a few blocks along Hollywood Boulevard on Saturday.

The awards dedicated to saluting the worst that Hollywood has to offer saw Canadian comic Mike Myers's win three Razzies or golden raspberries for his flop The Love Guru as celebutante Paris Hilton picked up three honors.