Oscars Promise Surprises, Brad Pitt – and Maybe Beyoncé
Originally posted Sunday February 22, 2009 01:00 PM EST
But the question remains: Will it be enough to net a major audience? With viewership declining, the Academy sure hopes so.
One thing is certain: If this year's nominees – including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Anne Hathaway – point to anything, there will plenty of A-listers walking the red carpet – not to mention some nail-biting races.
The Big RacesThis year's supporting actor categories offer real suspense. Will Heath Ledger pick up a posthumous Oscar for his memorable turn as the psychotic Joker in The Dark Knight? He's won plenty of trophies already this award season, but the late Ledger is competing against Milk's Josh Brolin, among other industry favorites.
Similarly, while oddsmakers favor Penélope Cruz in the Best Supporting Actress race, many in the industry have praised Viola Davis's heartrending performance in Doubt.
And Meryl Streep offers stiff competition for another hopeful, Kate Winslet, in the Best Actress category. Streep has already picked up a surprise Screen Actors Guild award for her role in the film.
Scaled Down PartiesWhile producers have remained tight-lipped about what to expect on the telecast, it's expected Jackman will be singing and dancing – as well as telling jokes.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Beyoncé will perform alongside PEOPLE's Sexiest Man Alive, as will Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.
In another change this year, organizers say they are scaling back some of the more lavish touches at post-Oscar parties, foregoing major floral arrangements, for instance, for giant bonsai trees.
The 81st Academy Awards will be broadcast live on Sunday, Feb. 22, from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.