| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES After months of fretting over whether this year's Oscars would happen, movie fans lined the red carpet outside the Kodak Theatre on Sunday to watch George Clooney, Johnny Depp and other stars stroll into the world's top film honors.
Having hired America's leading political satirist, Jon Stewart, as master of ceremonies in the midst of a presidential campaign, organizers hope to spice up Hollywood's big night with jokes that will be repeated around the office water cooler on Monday.
Oscar producer Gil Cates has promised a ceremony filled with big stars including Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Broadway songstress Kristin Chenoweth and teen idol Miley Cyrus to cheer the crowd.
But this Academy Awards season has been a trouble-filled one as a three-month screenwriters strike, which ended earlier this month, caused other awards shows to be canceled or drastically curtailed.
With the Oscars show set to go on, the mood outside the Kodak Theatre was upbeat and not even morning showers in normally sunny Los Angeles could keep some 600 people from filling seats hours before the evening ceremony to watch the parade of stars.
"It's invigorating," Kyle Wilson of San Diego -- a member of the rowdy "bleacher creatures" -- said of the rain.
Tara Lara was in the grandstands to see two things: the glitzy fashion on the red carpet and Depp, nominated for best actor for his role as a serial killer in the musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."
"I loved 'Sweeney Todd,'" she said. "It was the best musical ever."
DARK, SOMBER FILMS
The 5,800 voters at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presents the Oscars, thought otherwise when choosing their five best film nominees for 2007. "Sweeney Todd" was left off the list.
Oscar watchers say the best movie nominees reflect the somber mood of academy members.
Two front-runners are violent, the third tells of greedy lawyers, the fourth of family betrayal and the fifth of teen pregnancy -- and that's the funny one.
"No Country for Old Men," directed by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, features an insane killer played by Spanish actor Javier Bardem. It has eight nominations overall and has earned the favor of critics and Hollywood's talent guilds.
Best actor front-runner Daniel Day-Lewis commands the screen in "There Will Be Blood" as a sadistic oil man in the early 20th century. It also has eight nominations.
Rival best actor nominee Clooney wins respect as a fixer of problems at a New York law firm in "Michael Clayton," which looks at corporate greed and shady attorneys.
"Atonement" tells of a passionate romance derailed by a lie between sisters and "Juno" charts the life of a pregnant 16-year-old, played by Canadian best actress nominee Ellen Page, who plans for her baby's adoption.
Joining "Juno" star Page in the Oscar race for best actress are favorite Julie Christie for the Alzheimer's drama "Away From Her" and French actress Marion Cotillard playing troubled singer Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose."
Among supporting actress nominees are Cate Blanchett for "I'm Not There," Tilda Swinton for "Michael Clayton" and veteran Ruby Dee for "American Gangster."
The best actor race looks to be a toss-up between Day-Lewis and Clooney. Bardem is the front-runner for best supporting actor as the killer in "No Country."
(Editing by John O'Callaghan)