PICTURES

Sun comes out as stars arrive on Oscars red carpet

Actors Dax Shepard (left) and Kristen Bell attend the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Actors Dax Shepard (left) and Kristen Bell attend the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Steve McQueen, best director nominee for his film 12 Years A Slave, and partner Bianca Stigter arrive at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Steve McQueen, best director nominee for his film 12 Years A Slave, and partner Bianca Stigter arrive at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Barkhad Abdi (right), best supporting actor nominee for his role in the film Captain Phillips, arrives with actor Faysal Ahmed at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Barkhad Abdi (right), best supporting actor nominee for his role in the film Captain Phillips, arrives with actor Faysal Ahmed at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Felix Van Groeningen (right), director of Belgian film The Broken Circle Breakdown, and the film's star, Veerle Baetens, kiss on arrival at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Felix Van Groeningen (right), director of Belgian film The Broken Circle Breakdown, and the film's star, Veerle Baetens, kiss on arrival at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Nominee for best director for the film Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón (right), and Sheherezade Goldsmith arrive on the red carpet for the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2nd, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Nominee for best director for the film Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón (right), and Sheherezade Goldsmith arrive on the red carpet for the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2nd, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Actress Olivia Wilde (left) and Jason Sudeikis attends the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Actress Olivia Wilde (left) and Jason Sudeikis attends the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Luft arrives at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Luft arrives at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck tosses one of his 2014 Oscars creations to the crowd as he shows them off with his teammates at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck tosses one of his 2014 Oscars creations to the crowd as he shows them off with his teammates at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
TV personalities Kelly Osbourne (left) and Ross Mathews attend the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
TV personalities Kelly Osbourne (left) and Ross Mathews attend the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, California, on Mar 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Best actress nominee for the film American Hustle, Amy Adams (left), and Darren Le Gallo arrive on the red carpet for the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on March 2nd, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Best actress nominee for the film American Hustle, Amy Adams (left), and Darren Le Gallo arrive on the red carpet for the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on March 2nd, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - The world's top actors and actresses gathered for the Academy Awards on Sunday to honour a year of high-quality film and crown the best picture, a cliffhanger race led by 12 Years A Slave and Gravity. As if on cue, the sun came out after four days of heavy rain just before the first movie stars began arriving on the red carpet for Hollywood's biggest night.

Workers unwrapped the giant golden Oscar statues and prepared a slightly soggy carpet for the glamorous parade of A-listers in designer dresses and tuxedos.

The 86th annual Academy Awards will be hosted by comedian and day-time talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who producers are banking on to deliver an entertaining yet tasteful three-hour show after critics widely panned last year's ceremony and host Seth MacFarlane's provocative humour.

As the crowds along Hollywood Boulevard cheered on arriving talent, nominees celebrated the end of the long awards season and the culmination of work on their films.

"This has been such a long time coming," said director Chris Sanders of the nominated animated film The Croods. "It's like Christmas is finally here and it comes and goes so quickly, you just try to remember as much as you can."

Apart from the best picture race, it may be a night of predictable outcomes, from Gravity film-maker Alfonso Cuaron's likely win of the best director statuette to the virtual shoo-in of Frozen for best animated film. The four acting races might also be foregone conclusions.

This year's Oscars celebrate what is widely regarded as one of the most high quality years in film and performances in recent memory. The president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, called it the best line-up "in the last decade or so". That means that awards are likely to be scattered widely as the 6,000-plus members of the Academy seek to reward as many films as possible with the famed golden statuettes.

While British director Steve McQueen's brutal slavery drama 12 Years A Slave is the presumed frontrunner for best picture, the groundbreaking space thriller Gravity lurks just behind.

CHANCE TO MAKE HISTORY

Among the other contenders is 1970s crime caper American Hustle from director David O. Russell, which scored 10 nominations. For the second year in a row, Russell has achieved the rare feat of having his actors nominated in all four acting categories. Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street, a tale of financial greed and excess, has also been a hit with audiences and critics.

A total of nine films are competing for best picture, including Somali piracy thriller Captain Phillips, the adoption drama Philomena, the heartland comedy Nebraska, the computer-age romance Her, and the Aids activist biopic Dallas Buyers Club. But the Academy could make history this year if it chooses 12 Years A Slave for best picture. It would be the first time that the top film honour goes to a movie by a black director in the 86 years of the Oscars.

On Saturday, the real-life story of free man turned plantation slave Solomon Northup gained more momentum by sweeping the Independent Spirit Awards, a show that recognises movies made on small budgets. It scored five wins out of seven nominations, including best feature film.

The acting categories may yield few surprises on Sunday.

Cate Blanchett is heavily favoured to win her first best actress Oscar for her portrayal of the disgraced socialite in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. Matthew McConaughey is also a solid bet for best actor for his role as the unlikely Aids activist in Dallas Buyers Club, for which he lost some 23kg while co-star Jared Leto is tipped for best supporting actor.

Of the four races, the best supporting actress race might be the most compelling. Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o is favored for her role as hardworking slave Patsey in 12 Years A Slave but she faces a serious challenge from Jennifer Lawrence as the loopy housewife in American Hustle. The Oscars show will feature homages to movie heroes andThe Wizard Of Oz on its 75th anniversary. U2 and Pharrell Williams will be among the performers for best original song.

Among the presenters will be Hollywood power couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as well as Sidney Poitier on the 50th anniversary of his best actor win for Lilies Of The Field, the first Oscar in that category for an African American.