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Hollywood is ready Oscar close-up

After months of preparation, Oscar film campaigns that cost millions, the big evening has arrived. Live Coverage
By Arthur Spiegelman (Reuters) | PTI, Los Angeles
UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2005 09:22 AM IST

The champagne is on ice, the limousines are rented and some stars have had their palms and armpits injected with Botox to prevent sweating under the TV lights. Hollywood is ready for its annual close-up on Sunday: the Oscars.

After months of preparation, Oscar film campaigns that cost millions and weeks of conspicuous consumption as designers and jewelers wooed stars to wear their clothes and diamonds, only three major mysteries remained:

Would the 5,800 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences make Clint Eastwood's day by giving the 74-year-old actor and director the best picture Oscar for the gut-wrenching boxing drama Million Dollar Baby?

Would the academy finally give a gold statuette to Martin Scorsese, one of the country's most accomplished directors, for The Aviator after failing to do so six previous times?

And would edgy first-time host Chris Rock bomb or blast off with ABC, the US network televising the show, ready to use a five-second time delay if things get too raunchy.

Rock is at the heart of a major Oscar redesign because the show watched by millions around the world has been losing audiences in the United States. To lure younger viewers back, producer Gil Cates brought Rock in and made other changes to make the 2 1/2-hour plus broadcast move faster.

For some categories all nominees will be introduced on stage together, with the winner stepping forward. In others, the winner will be announced from the theater aisles.

Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel recently said he didn't think the moves would improve ratings.

"First of all people have to tune in and stay with it no matter what the format is," Schickel said. "And this is a year in which none of the contending pictures are big, across the board hits."

While the stars gather inside the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, they will be protected by a small army of police, a system to detect sarin nerve gas, a state-of-the-art command center and roadblocks.

"We are pulling out all the stops," said John Miller, chief of counterterrorism at the Los Angeles Police Department.

The show is "a symbol of American culture and has the potential to be a high-visibility target," he told Reuters on the eve of the 77th Oscar ceremony.

Commentators joke that the last major security breach at the Oscars took place in 1974 when a streaker ran across the stage as David Niven was introducing Elizabeth Taylor.

But protecting the annual event has become a serious business since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

As the day neared, however, last-minute rehearsals took place without incident. Florists put finishing touches to their arrangements and dozens of tourists milled about.

Dermatologists, cosmologists and anyone else that could offer a youthful appearance worked overtime to get people ready, in some cases reporting the use of Botox, the popular non-surgical injection that temporarily reduces wrinkles, to prevent the dreaded sweating before cameras.

Meanwhile, Sideways, the wine country buddy comedy that is nominated for five Academy awards, swept the Independent Spirit Awards, the art-house world's equivalent of the Oscars.

The saga won all six categories in which it was nominated, including best feature, director, screenplay and male lead.

In another eve-of-the-Oscars awards show, George W Bush won the Razzie worst actor of the year award for his performance as president in Fahrenheit 9/11.

But his moment in Hollywood's dubious spotlight was eclipsed by Halle Berry, who actually turned up to receive her worst actress accolade from the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation for her performance in Catwoman.

(Additional reporting by Ben Berkowitz and Mike Collett-White)

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