With only six days to go, Hollywood gears up for its annual Oscars ‘megacircus’

By Michael Thurston, AFP

LOS ANGELES–Hollywood Boulevard is still open to traffic, but not for long: sometime this week, the Oscars megacircus will start to pitch its tent, for the climax of Tinseltown’s annual awards season. With only six days to go before next Sunday’s extravaganza, everyone knows the frontrunners: Martin Scorsese’s visually lavish adventure “Hugo” and French-directed silent movie “The Artist,” starring a cute canine called Uggie. But unlike some years, there is little consensus over whether either will walk away with the prestigious golden statuette for Best Picture when the envelopes are opened at the Kodak Theatre. Indeed, the mood is slightly strange this year because, less than a fortnight before the show, the Kodak Theatre lost its name after the legendary photographic company filed for bankruptcy.

The run-up to this year’s Oscars has definitely had its share of bumps: veteran host Billy Crystal will front the show, but only after first-choice Eddie Murphy quit in November in a row over anti-gay comments by a producer. At about the same time they also abruptly lost their head of communications, who hasn’t been replaced. That hasn’t stopped Oscars organizers the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from pressing ahead with plans for its annual bonanza, seen by hundreds of millions of viewers around the world. In their latest drip-feed announcement of who will be starring in the show — aside from the Oscar winners, that is — the Academy said Friday that Canadian dance troupe Cirque du Soleil will stage a one-off performance. Others already lined up to present include Ben Stiller, Bradley Cooper, Penelope Cruz, Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lopez and Melissa McCarthy. Scorsese’s “Hugo” is nominated in the most categories, with 11 nods, followed by 10 for silent film hit “The Artist” including best actor for French star Jean Dujardin and best director for Michel Hazanavicius.