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'Birdman', 'Boyhood', 'Sniper' battle for Oscars glory

As the hours ticked down, Tinseltown’s finest awoke to unusually cloudy Los Angeles skies that gave way to showers for the 87th Oscars, which gets going at 5:30 pm (0130 GMT Monday) at the Dolby Theatre.

Rain or no rain, A-listers — fresh from pre-Oscars parties across Hollywood and Beverly Hills — were due on the fashion parade carpet a few hours before the show.

Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette and Eddie Redmayne are among those widely tipped to take home acting prizes during the extravaganza, which will be hosted by song-and-dance man Neil Patrick Harris.

On the eve of the Oscars, “Birdman” got a fresh boost, taking best film at the Independent Spirit Awards as well as best actor for Michael Keaton, while “Boyhood” took best director for Richard Linklater.

The race for the biggest prize of the night Sunday — best picture — is too close to call.

“Birdman,” a fanciful yet dark tale of a washed-up superhero actor battling to revive his career on Broadway, has swept a string of prizes ahead of the Oscars, including top prizes from the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America.

But Linklater’s “Boyhood” — made over the course of 12 years with the same actors aging with their characters — scooped up the biggest awards at last month’s Golden Globes, as well as Britain’s BAFTAs.

– Clint dark horse? –

Some have suggested that Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” could sneak up on the inside as a dark horse, boosted by the film’s box-office success as the highest-grossing war movie of all time.

When nominations were announced last month, “Birdman” shared the most nods with Wes Anderson’s stylish crime caper “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” at nine each, followed by World War II thriller “The Imitation Game” with eight. “Boyhood” followed with six.

While the best picture race is on a knife-edge, several of the other key categories are seen as much easier to predict.

Veteran star Moore is almost universally expected to win best actress for playing a linguistics professor suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s Disease in “Still Alice.”

Arquette is the favorite for best supporting actress as the single mother raising two kids in “Boyhood,” while J.K. Simmons is widely expected to win best supporting actor honors for jazz drama “Whiplash.”

The best actor race is still seen as up for grabs: a two-man contest between Redmayne — as astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” — and Keaton.

– Best picture/director split? –

For best director, the frontrunners are Linklater and Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the creative force behind “Birdman.”

This has led to speculation that the best picture and best director prizes could be shared, as they were last year when Mexican Alfonso Cuaron won best director for “Gravity,” while the best picture Oscar went to “12 Years a Slave.”

A star-studded cast of presenters will hand out the prizes on Sunday, including Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Kidman, Eddie Murphy, Liam Neeson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey.

Many of the nominees and stars spent the weekend at pre-Oscars parties, schmoozing to the last.

Designer Tom Ford put on a glitzy fashion parade on Friday, with Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore among the A-listers.

“I’m excited. It’s a really fun weekend, there’s a lot of people to see, a lot of parties,” Moore told AFP.

African-American civil rights groups have announced plans to protest outside the Oscars show, with all this year’s 20 acting nominees white.

“The message is very simple: you don’t reflect America, your industry doesn’t reflect America,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, head of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable group.

The protest was planned for 2:00 pm, just as the red carpet was to get under way- AFP.



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