Red carpet show at 6 Sunday on E!
Awards ceremony at 8 on WSOC, ABC.
The decision to expand Oscar's best picture competition from five to 10 titles came from a place of greed and anxiety: the desperate need to attract more viewers to the awards telecast.
Whatever the motive, it's been a good thing for movies.
That's a gut feeling, not a scientific study. But this awards season I've sensed a much greater anticipation for the big event among just plain moviegoers. If the purpose of doubling the best picture slate was to involve more of us and make the Academy Awards seem more relevant, it worked.
Fanboys have "Avatar" and "District 9" to cheer for. Middle Americans - religious, family-oriented, football-mad - have "The Blind Side." Kids have "Up" (although many an adult is rooting for this Pixar marvel). Ironic hipsters have "Inglourious Basterds."
And for those who still cling to the idea that film is an art form, we have "The Hurt Locker," "An Education," "Precious," "A Serious Man" and "Up in the Air."
Of course, the pundits have been saying for weeks that the race really boils down to a David-and-Goliath smackdown between the modest war drama "The Hurt Locker" and the 3-D space opera "Avatar."
It's a classic confrontation between a big-money monster and a scrappy little contender. A week after seeing "Avatar" in December I'd have sworn it would sweep the boards in the manner of James Cameron's last spectacle, "Titanic."
But a funny thing happened: The buzz began growing on "Hurt Locker." The film opened last summer and played for several weeks, but it didn't do as much business as "Avatar" has in three hours.
Since then Kathryn Bigelow's drama about a bomb demolition team in Iraq has come out on pay-per-view and DVD. I've been astounded by the number of people who've told me they watched the film at home and loved it.
You could feel the momentum swinging.
In January, the Golden Globes gave "Avatar" best picture and director honors. The recent BAFTA awards in London, though, signaled an about-face. "The Hurt Locker" picked up awards for picture, director, original screenplay, cinematography, editing and sound. "Avatar" won only technical awards for production design and special effects.
Now I'll call the race for "The Hurt Locker," though in my heart of hearts I believe "Up" was the most artful, totally satisfying film of the year.
We've yet to see how the academy's new scoring system plays out. Voters were asked to list their choices by first place, second place and so on. A film listed in second place on everybody's ballot could well earn more points than the two top contenders.
Say first-place votes are evenly divided between "Avatar" and "Hurt Locker." But every single voter chose "Inglourious Basterds" for second place.
Result: "Inglourious Basterds" wins, even though it's nobody's first-place choice.
Welcome to Oscar's brave new world! Of course we'll never know, since the academy doesn't make public the vote breakdown.
All I know is that I fully expect "The Hurt Locker" to be named best picture.
Director: Katherine Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"; actress: Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"; actor: Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"; supporting actress, Mo'Nique, "Precious"; supporting actor, Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds."