Hollywood Prepares for its Big Night

Record-breaking storms have soaked Southern California, but on Sunday, Oscar will reign -- and the stars are preparing to make their big entrances, even if it means trudging along a soggy red carpet.

Academy Award planners aren't taking any chances that a spate of bad weather will spoil the parade of stars. They've pitched a plastic tent over the red carpet outside Hollywood's Kodak Theatre to keep every famous face dry, at least until the heartfelt victory speeches.

Metal barricades line the streets outside the theater, where more than 3,000 fans are expected to cheer as Hollywood's finest show off their Oscar attire. The festivities will be broadcast on ABC, beginning with a preshow special at 8 p.m. ET.

A new energy fills this year's show. Chris Rock takes over as host, and the Emmy-winning comic, known for his raw humor, is big step away from the congenial humor of Billy Crystal and Steve Martin. Rock is promising to keep it clean, but show producers are no doubt ready to press the bleep button.

"I'm never proper or careful, but I never curse in front of my mother, either," Rock told reporters when it was announced that he would host the ceremony,

"I don't think people are nervous," the comedian said. "I just came off tour in America. A million people came to see me. They weren't nervous."

This year's Oscar race also promises more surprises than recent ones. The dominance of "The Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King" made last year's show utterly predictable. The final installment of the J.R.R. Tolkien saga won every category in which it was nominated, taking home 10 awards.

This year figures to be a showdown between Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" and Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby." Either of these heavily nominated films could end up the evening's big winner.

Victory would be especially sweet for Scorsese. The legendary director has lost four times previously when nominated for best director, and none of his films has ever won best picture.

On the other hand, Eastwood could take home his second Oscar for directing. He's also competing for best actor, and while he is a long-shot in that category, the very fact that he was nominated speaks volumes about his popularity in Hollywood, especially among actors, who make up the largest contingent of Academy Award voters.

That may bode well for "Million Dollar Baby" star Hilary Swank, who might punch her way to her second Oscar for her portrayal of a female boxer, and for Morgan Freeman, who may earn his first nod from the academy as one of her trainers.

The biggest star of the evening, however, may end up being Jamie Foxx, who has been hailed for his uncannily realistic portrayal of Ray Charles in "Ray," and is favored by many critics to win best actor.

Foxx joined an elite group of actors this year, becoming only the ninth performer to earn two acting nominations in a single year. He's also competing in the category of best supporting actor for his turn in "Collateral" as a nervous cab driver forced at gunpoint to drive a hit man along his appointed rounds.

Here's a look at the most-watched categories:

Best Picture

The Nominees: Best picture: "The Aviator," "Finding Neverland," "Million Dollar Baby," "Ray," "Sideways"

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