LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two small movies headed to a showdown for the biggest of all film prizes at the 87th Academy Awards on Sunday, in an evening ceremony likely to honor veteran actors along with feats of film-making.
Show business satire "Birdman" and the coming-of-age tale "Boyhood" are widely considered favourites in the battle for best picture and best director Oscars. But in one of the least predictable years in recent memory, the races were too close to call and there was room for upsets.
As the beautiful and powerful hit the glamorous Oscars red carpet, shimmering beads and jewels broke through an unusually dreary, rainy evening for Hollywood's biggest night.
Best actress nominees Julianne Moore, Felicity Jones and Rosamund Pike donned dresses with sparkle and shine. Silver and red were early popular colours on the carpet.
Moore is heavily favoured to win for her portrayal of a woman with Alzheimer's in "Still Alice", one of the veterans who will likely receive a first Oscar.
"I have been in this business a long time," Moore said on the red carpet. "It doesn't always happen."
The ceremony will be broadcast by ABC in a three-hour telecast from Hollywood's Dolby Theatre, where first-time host Neil Patrick Harris will guide a show heavy on humour, magic and music from big names such as Lady Gaga.
The Academy is trying to attract a new generation of young viewers who may not care much about the films but who could tune in for the musical acts.
In one of the most anticipated segments, rapper Common and singer John Legend will perform their Oscar-nominated song "Glory", from civil rights drama "Selma".
KEATON MAY SURPRISE
Eight films are vying for best picture, but for the months-long awards season, most of the speculation around the top honor has focused on Alejandro G. Inarritu's "Birdman", which has nine nominations overall, and Richard Linkalater's "Boyhood", with six nods.
The directors did their best on the red carpet to play down any rivalry, with Inarritu calling the supposed competition "so silly" and Linklater saying he loved "Birdman". "It's a real tribute for two films that aren't traditional stories, crazy stories," said Linklater, who made movie history by filming the story over 12 years with the same actors. "American Sniper," "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "The Imitation Game" could also find favour from the 6,100 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who vote for the Oscars.
In a sign of how the Oscars might be split, the Film Independent Spirit Awards for small-budget movies on Saturday crowned "Birdman" as best feature and Linklater won best director.
Michael Keaton took best actor for his role as the washed-up former superhero actor attempting a comeback in "Birdman", raising the chances that he could steal the best actor Oscar from Eddie Redmayne, the front-runner for his portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything". In the documentary category, "Citizenfour" was the favorite for its story of whistleblower Edward Snowden, the former US government security contractor who revealed widespread surveillance of citizens. "This is not where we expected to ever be, it's wonderful," said "Citizenfour" director Laura Poitras on the red carpet.
The Academy has taken its knocks this year for failing to nominate any actors of ethnic minority groups in the acting contests, and the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite went viral in response.
Civil rights groups called a boycott of the Oscars to protest against the lack of diversity but cancelled a planned protest for Sunday.
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