Hollywood stars walked the Oscars red carpet on Sunday ready to celebrate the year in movies at a ceremony free of last year’s pandemic restrictions and promising a few plot twists.
Jamie Lee Curtis, Lily James and the cast of Japanese best picture nominee “Drive My Car” were among the first to arrive at the Dolby Theatre where 2,500 gown- and tuxedo-clad attendees were expected for the 94th Academy Awards.
“I’m 63 years old and they still asked me to come to the party,” Curtis told a reporter. “I’m thrilled to be able to represent women of a certain age.”
Curtis said she would deliver a tribute to acting legend Betty White, who died in December just shy of her 100th birthday.
A dark Western, “The Power of the Dog,” will battle feel-good deaf family drama “CODA” for the prestigious best picture prize. A win by either movie would mark a milestone by handing the statuette to a streaming service.
Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) released “Power of the Dog” while “CODA” streamed on Apple TV+ (AAPL.O).
Producers said they planned an upbeat show but will acknowledge the crisis in Ukraine, which has killed thousands and driven a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes. Actor Mila Kunis, who was born in Ukraine, is among the night’s presenters.
After past complaints about a lack of diversity, two of this year’s four acting accolades may go to people of color. Will Smith is likely to earn his first Oscar for “King Richard,” awards watchers say, as is Ariana DeBose for “West Side Story.”
Comedians Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes will host, and it is the first time three women have guided the ceremony.
In a bid to draw more viewers, especially younger ones, after years of declining ratings, the three-hour show starting at 8 p.m. ET (0000 GMT) will add two awards, the results of fan votes for favorite film and scene.
The best picture race hinges on whether the 9,900 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences back a gothic psychological thriller or an uplifting story.
“The pundits have always said you never know who’s going to win,” said People magazine movies editor Nigel Smith. “This year, it actually seems to be the case.”
“Power of the Dog,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a repressed cowboy who torments his brother’s new wife, outpaced all movies with 12 nominations. It had been considered the leader until “CODA” landed top honors from the Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild.
“CODA” tells the story of a hearing girl who serves as interpreter for her deaf family but longs to pursue a career in music. CODA is an acronym for “child of deaf adult.”
“I really haven’t spoken to anyone who doesn’t like CODA,” Smith said.
‘IMPORTANT STEPS FORWARD’
A traditional Hollywood studio could score an upset. Awards experts give an outside shot to Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast,” a film inspired by his childhood in Northern Ireland at the onset of the sectarian conflict known as the Troubles, or Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake.
“King Richard” star Smith is the best-actor favorite for playing the determined father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams. Competitors include Cumberbatch and Andrew Garfield for musical “Tick, Tick … Boom!”
Best actress is the most unpredictable. Many experts say Jessica Chastain’s portrayal of TV evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker will triumph, though some give the edge to former “Twilight” vampire Kristen Stewart for playing Princess Diana in “Spencer.”
While the acting field is not as diverse as last year’s, “it is certainly better than what we saw a few years back with #OscarsSoWhite,” said UCLA dean of social sciences Darnell Hunt, co-author of an annual Hollywood diversity report. “The academy has taken important steps forward.”
In supporting actor categories, Afro-Latina actress DeBose is expected to prevail for her portrayal of Anita in “West Side Story.” “CODA” star Troy Kotsur could make history as the first deaf man to win an Oscar.
To streamline the show, winners of eight categories such as editing and sound were to be announced before the live broadcast. Their speeches will be edited into the telecast.