A general view of preparations in progress for the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Television icon Ellen DeGeneres returns to host the Oscars for a second time.
By Barbara Vancheri / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Some years it's all over but the shouting and sashaying down the red carpet.
This appears to be one of those years, but the best picture Oscar is still up for grabs and some categories might not be as predictable as the pundits think. Will voters opt for the historically important "12 Years a Slave" or the technically dazzling "Gravity" or the flat-out entertaining "American Hustle"?
Borrowing a page from onetime Oscar host David Letterman, the top 10 reasons to watch the 86th Academy Awards tonight, with preshows as early as 5:30 p.m. on E! and 7 p.m. on ABC and the ceremony at 8:30 p.m. with host Ellen DeGeneres.
1. The sunshine -- Remember it? Me neither.
2. Catty critiques -- You can sit at home in yoga pants and shoes stained by rock salt and assess stars wearing designer gowns, gems so precious they come with their own discreet bodyguards and stilettos that would make you cry "Uncle!" before the end of the 500-foot-long red carpet outside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
3. "Downton Abbey" is gone, for now -- Yes, last Sunday's episode featured actors portraying the Prince of Wales and the King and Queen of England, but the season is over. Besides, the Oscars are about movie stars, who are America's version of royalty.
4. Almost everyone's doing it -- On Nielsen's list of top TV programs of 2013 (single telecasts), there were nine football games and the Oscars. An estimated 40.3 million Americans watched.
5. It will be packed with presenters -- Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron did a very smart thing. Realizing that viewers might not tune in to see June Squibb, 84, or newcomer Barkhad Abdi from "Captain Phillips," they released the names of nearly four dozen presenters.
Carrying the flag for younger actors are Emma Watson, Zac Efron, Andrew Garfield, Anna Kendrick and Michael B. Jordan while trailblazer Sidney Poitier will lend gravitas and grace to the proceedings.
Samuel L. Jackson and Harrison Ford have never won -- each has been nominated just once -- but they've starred in movies people have paid billions of dollars to see. They're on the roster with Jamie Foxx, Benedict Cumberbatch, Will Smith, Chris Hemsworth, Channing Tatum and other fan favorites.
6. "Frozen" sing-along -- You don't need to put it on YouTube, just belt out "Let It Go" with Idina Menzel as she performs the nominated song from "Frozen."
As Elsa declares, "Let it go, let it go! Can't hold it back any more. Let it go, let it go! Turn away and slam the door. I don't care what they're going to say. Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway."
7. Suspense -- Even if "Gravity" wins everything up until, say, 11:56 p.m. (the time "Argo" was announced as best picture a year ago), "12 Years a Slave" or "American Hustle" or a dark-horse candidate still could walk away with the biggest prize of the evening. You snooze, you lose the chance to hear it first.
8. Remembering those who are gone -- It's inevitable that, come Monday, some family will be wounded by the In Memoriam omission of their loved one.
But, sadly, losses have come at a rapid pace with such luminaries as Shirley Temple, Peter O'Toole, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julie Harris, Joan Fontaine, Annette Funicello, James Gandolfini, Paul Walker, Ray Harryhausen and Harold Ramis gone, to name just a few.
If "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life" is named best documentary short, it will be a fitting way to honor its subject, Alice Herz-Sommer, who died last Sunday in London. At age 110, she was believed to be the oldest-known survivor of the Holocaust and a woman with a remarkably resilient spirit.
9. The thrill of victory and agony of defeat -- We all know what it's like to win or lose, whether it's a spelling bee, company softball game or Employee of the Month competition.
Imagine having to be a gracious loser, as the camera is fixed on your face, or witty winner who must remember to thank the proper people before the conductor raises his baton. Even the brightest confess their brains turn to porridge when handed the envelope and an 8-pound Oscar.
10. It's the final stop on the awards train -- Everybody off after tonight! "Gravity" premiered at the Venice International Film Festival Aug. 28, while "12 Years" had its first public showing Aug. 29 at the Telluride festival.
Other movies were late to the parade of parties, but it has been a long slog for filmmakers, actors, writers, composers, stylists, moviegoers and critics. Besides, it's almost time to speculate about the best of 2014.
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