84th annual Academy Awards

Hollywood takes the spotlight itself on Sunday for the 84th annual Academy Awards, the world’s most prominent celebration of film.

Final preparations for Tinseltown’s biggest night have progressed throughout the weekend at the Hollywood & Highland Center (formerly known as the Kodak Theatre) in Los Angeles.

Outside, the red carpet has been uncovered by a team of workers on Saturday, while international media crews staked out their locations. Inside, jeans-clad stars including Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep took part in rehearsals. Other presenters will include Tom Cruise, Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie and Michael Douglas.

Show producers Brian Grazer and Don Mischer have revealed that comedy will play a significant part of Sunday night’s broadcast, which will see the return of Billy Crystal, a perennial favourite Oscar host.
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According to Grazer, Crystal will revive two of his traditional Oscar trademarks: a best-picture nominees sequence where the comedian appears in scenes from each film and a musical tribute to the finalists.

Funny moments are also expected when the likes of Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Tina Fey and the cast of the blockbuster comedy Bridesmaids take the stage.

Before the show, Sacha Baron Cohen is expected to make a splash after the Hugo co-star vowed to walk the red carpet in character as a faux, Middle Eastern despot — a stunt for his upcoming film The Dictator that the British comedian and actor previously used for films such as Borat and Bruno.

Crystal is emceeing the awards for a ninth time, deciding to step in with Grazer and Mischer in late 2011 after the exit of original show producer Brett Ratner and host Eddie Murphy.

Martin Scorsese’s 3D children’s tale Hugo and the black-and-white silent film homage The Artist, which as dominated the film awards season, are the top contenders heading into Sunday’s gala, with 11 and 10 nominations, respectively.

Another film favoured to emerge with some Oscar hardware is Alexander Payne’s Hawaii-set family drama The Descendants.

Streep’s portrayal of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady and Viola Davis’s turn as a determined black maid in the civil rights-era tale The Help are the frontrunners for the best actress trophy.

The best actor race seems to be a contest between The Artist’s Jean Dujardin and George Clooney for The Descendants.

After winning supporting actor honours at a number of other award shows, Canadian acting icon Christopher Plummer is widely anticipated to win the corresponding Oscar as well for his work in Beginners.

Other Canadians vying for an Academy Award include:

Quebec film Monsieur Lazhar, a foreign-language film nominee.
Polish-Canadian co-production In Darkness, also up for best foreign language film
Animated short film Dimanche/Sunday, a National Film Board production.
Animated short film Wild Life, another NFB nominee.
Howard Shore, original score finalist for Hugo
Sound mixing contender David Giammarco for Moneyball.

The 84th annual Academy Awards air live from Los Angeles Sunday night beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Final preparations are being made as Hollywood counts down to the 2012 Academy Awards in Los Angeles. (Matt Sayles/Associated Press)

Oscars 2012: Who Should Win Best Supporting Actor?

Clockwise, from top left: Kenneth Branagh, Christopher Plummer, Max Von Sydow, Nick Nolte and (center) Jonah Hill

Hard to believe, but with so many notable roles under their belts over the past several years, Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominees Kenneth Branagh, Nick Nolte, Christopher Plummer and Max Von Sydow have never grabbed the gold.

That is likely to change Sunday night – for one of them. Or, in an upset, possibly for the much-younger Jonah Hill.

And while the smart money is on either Oscar-less octogenarian Christopher Plummer, for his Screen Actors Guild-winning turn as a father who comes out sexually late in life in The Beginners, or Max Von Sydow, as a contemporary man who still suffers the effects of WWII in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, no nominee can be counted out in this race.

Nolte has rarely been so critically praised as he has been for Warrior, in which he plays a recovering alcoholic father of an ex-Marine, while Branagh has successfully channeled the most acclaimed actor of the 20th century, Laurence Olivier, as he endured work with the self-doubting Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) in My Week with Marilyn.

As for Hill, he holds his own as the nerdy but knowing numbers guy in the real-life sports drama Moneyball, opposite Brad Pitt.

May the best man win – only, who is that?

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