* Daniel Day-Lewis expected to win record third Best Actor
* Best Picture contenders among most-watched films of 2012
* Provocative comedian Seth MacFarlane hosts live TV
By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES, Feb 24 The Oscars rolled out the
red carpet on Sunday for the movie industry's biggest night,
with Iran hostage drama "Argo" and presidential drama "Lincoln"
in a tight race for Best Picture.
With several contests too close to call, a slate of big box
office hits to celebrate and an unpredictable first-time host in
Seth MacFarlane, movie fans could be in for surprises when the
curtain rises on the 85th annual Academy Awards.
Before the festivities begin, nominees including Jennifer
Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, Sally Field, Jessica Chastain, British
singer Adele and "Argo" producer George Clooney, along with
performers Barbra Streisand and Jennifer Hudson will parade
along the 500-ft long (152 meter) red carpet before dozens of
photographers and camera crews.
Inside Hollywood's Dolby Theatre, Academy Awards history
could be re-written.
Daniel Day-Lewis as U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is
considered an unstoppable force to become the first man to win
three Best Actor Oscars.
Buzz is building over a possible late upset by France's
Emmanuelle Riva, 86, in the Best Actress contest that would make
the star of harrowing Austrian entry "Amour" the oldest person
ever to win an acting Oscar.
"Lincoln" goes into Sunday's three-hour plus ceremony with a
leading 12 nominations, including a directing nod for double
Oscar winner Steven Spielberg.
But its front-runner Best Picture status has been dented by
the six-week victory streak enjoyed at other Hollywood awards by
Ben Affleck's "Argo."
"It's been an interesting year," said Matt Atchity, editor
in chief of movie review website Rotten Tomatoes.
"I think 'Argo' probably has the best shot. It's certainly
got the momentum. It has won so many top awards, and I think
it's probably the movie to beat," Atchity told Reuters.
If "Argo" does prevail for the top prize, it will be the
first movie to win Best Picture without its director even
getting a nomination since "Driving Miss Daisy" in 1990.
ANNE HATHAWAY OSCAR BOUND
Musical "Les Miserables," comedy "Silver Linings Playbook,"
shipwreck tale "Life of Pi," Osama bin laden thriller "Zero Dark
Thirty," slavery Western "Django Unchained," indie film "Beasts
of the Southern Wild," and "Amour" round out the contenders for
the best film of 2012.
In other categories, only Anne Hathaway is considered a sure
bet to take home a golden statuette after starving herself and
chopping off her long brown locks for her supporting turn as
tragic heroine Fantine in "Les Miserables."
Awards pundits says Spielberg could lose out in the
director's race to Taiwan's Ang Lee for his technical and
imaginative feat in filming fantastical adventure "Life of Pi"
with a cast of exotic animals.
And the supporting actor Oscar could go to any of the five
nominees - Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Alan
Arkin ("Argo"), Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained"), Tommy Lee
Jones ("Lincoln") and Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master").
The Oscar winners are chosen in secret ballots by some 5,800
members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and
handed out before an audience of 3,300 guests and tens of
millions more watching around the world on television.
After several years of nominating little-seen movies, this
year's nine Best Picture contenders have pulled in more than $2
billion in tickets worldwide.
"We are so fortunate to inherit this great group of films
that are also popular at the box office ... We just lucked out
and had this fantastic year in film," Academy Awards telecast
co-producer Neil Meron told Reuters.
Producers are promising a fast-paced show packed with music
and big performances. But the man getting the early attention
will be MacFarlane, the provocative comedian behind animated TV
series "Family Guy" and an unknown quantity as Oscar host.
"We are not going to know what works until we put it out
there and see what plays in front of an audience," co-producer
Craig Zadan said.
"It's a live show and that is always unpredictable. Once the
train has left the station, whatever happens, happens."
The Academy Awards will be broadcast live on ABC television
in the United States, starting at 5 p.m. PST (0100 GMT).