LOS ANGELES - In true Hollywood fashion, the Academy Awards on Sunday promised a cliffhanger ending in the race for best picture Oscar between favorites "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" along with extra drama thrown in by a tempestuous Mother Nature.
After three days of heavy downpours soaked parts of the red carpet along Hollywood Boulevard, there was no guarantee the rain would stop by the time hundreds of movie stars in custom-made designer dresses and tuxedos begin arriving for Hollywood's biggest night.
The 86th annual Academy Awards will be hosted by comedian Ellen DeGeneres, under pressure to deliver an entertaining yet tasteful three-hour show after critics widely panned last year's ceremony and host Seth MacFarlane's provocative humor.
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."
Nine films are competing for the top honor of best picture and Paul Sheehan, editor at awards handicapping site Goldderby.com, says that unlike past years, the high quality means "eight of the nine films could be a credible best picture winner."
While British director Steve McQueen's brutal slavery drama "12 Years a Slave" and Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron's space thriller "Gravity" are the frontrunners and have split many of the season's awards, experts say an upset is possible because no one can know for sure how the 6,000 plus members of the Academy voted.