In Monster's Ball, Berry plays the widow of a death-row inmate who falls in love with her husband's executioner. Her surprise victory at the Screen Actors Guild Awards a few weeks ago put momentum behind her nomination.
The Best Actress race also features Nicole Kidman's turn as dying nightclub singer in Moulin Rouge; Judi Dench as British writer Iris Murdoch in Iris; Sissy Spacek as a bitter, grieving mother in In the Bedroom; and Renee Zellweger, who played the lovelorn Londoner in Bridget Jones's Diary.
Return to Glamour
Forget trying to guess who will win. Many viewers tune in just to see what the stars wear. After the Sept. 11 attacks, celebrity events were toned down. Now, the powers that be have deemed it OK to once again unabashedly party hardy.
"I think we're going to see a lot of glamour this year on the red carpet because this is the most glamorous year of nominees," said celebrity stylist Philip Bloch.
With actresses such as Kidman, Zellweger, Dench and Best Actress nominee Helen Mirren (Gosford Parl), Bloch says the fashion parade on the red carpet will definitely dispel some myths.
"Everyone says, 'Oh, Hollywood glamour is just young girls and bimbo-y actresses'. And this year, I think we are definitely going to see that this is not the case," he said. "I don't think we're going to see a lot of cocktail attire."
Still, the world has changed. Oscar-bound celebrities are scheduled to arrive between 2 p.m. and 5:25 p.m. Pacific Time, much earlier than usual, to pass through what producer Lara Ziskin called "presidential-level" security.
Goldberg: 'It's Much More Important This Year'
After three turns as host, Goldberg had sworn off another Oscar gig. She had taken a lot of flack for the raunchiness of her last appearance. But the Sept. 11 attack changed her mind.
"The tone of the show, and the tone of the Oscars, in a way, has always been about worldwide connections," Goldberg said.
"And somehow, I think it's much more important this year for us to remember that we're part of a world partnership," she said. "It has really to do with connection. I very much want to connect to the world, and what better way than hosting the Oscars, something I said I would never do again."
Ziskin — the first woman to produce an Oscar show — has made some daring moves to speed up the festivities — which have been criticized in the past for running in excess of four hours. For the first time in memory, there will be no song-and-dance extravaganza.
Viewers will still be treated to world-class entertainment — only the performances will be shorter. Sting, Paul McCartney, Enya, Randy Newman and Faith Hill will share the same stage, performing the songs nominated for Best Original Song, one after the next.
"You can't re-invent the Oscars," Ziskin said. "I've called on screenwriters and some filmmakers I know to contribute to the show, so that may be the difference a little bit."
This year also marks Oscar's homecoming. The show returns to Hollywood for the first time since 1960. Recent festivities were held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Now, Hollywood's biggest party moves to the spanking new, 3,100-seat Kodak Theater, built with this event in mind.
"It's Oscar's pad," Goldberg said. "So, you know, Oscar's a guy. He needs a hostess, and why not me? I love a good housewarming."
ABCNEWS Radio's Dave Alpert, Bill Diehl and Heidi Oringer in Los Angeles and ABCNEWS.com's Buck Wolf in New York contributed to this report.