| GEO World|
| All set for 81st Oscars glory|
| Updated at: 1736 PST, Friday, February 20, 2009|
HOLLYWOOD: India-set love story "Slumdog Millionaire" is set for a fairytale Oscars victory here Sunday as the cream of the movie world descends on Hollywood for the 81st Academy Awards.
Pundits say the low-budget "Slumdog" cannot be beaten in the race for the coveted best picture statuette after scoring an unprecedented clean sweep at every major award show leading up to the Oscars.
Although period drama "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" will start the night with the most nominations, 13, compared to 10 for "Slumdog," experts say that British director Danny Boyle's film looks unstoppable.
"It would be the biggest upset in modern Oscars history to see 'Slumdog' lose," said Pete Hammond, a veteran awards season pundit and Maxim film critic.
"It hasn't stumbled once this awards season. It has had an unprecedented sweep. It's the equivalent of the perfect season in football or baseball."
Scott Feinberg, a pundit for the Los Angeles Times's theenvelope.com, added: "Essentially Slumdog has it won. Any other outcome would be a huge shock."
Pundits say "Slumdog" has delighted audiences with its rags-to-riches plot about a Mumbai teaboy who rises out of poverty and enters a television quiz show to win millions and be reunited with the love of his life.
The against-the-odds triumph of the film's central character is mirrored by the movie's improbable march towards Oscars glory. Made for only 15 million dollars, the film features a cast of unknown actors and is partially subtitled.
The movie was also very nearly released straight to DVD in the United States last year, a move which would have ruled it out of Oscars contention.
Other rivals in the best picture category are "Benjamin Button," political drama "Frost/Nixon," biopic "Milk" and Holocaust drama "The Reader."
With "Slumdog" and Boyle heavily favored to win best picture and director, pundits are looking to the acting honors to provide suspense when the Oscars begin at the Kodak Theater on Sunday from 5:30 pm (0130 GMT Monday).
Sean Penn, who plays a trailblazing gay politician in "Milk", and Kate Winslet, who plays a Nazi death camp guard in "The Reader" are the front-runners in the best actor and actress categories.
However Penn faces stiff competition from Mickey Rourke, who won last month's Golden Globes for playing a washed up prizefighter in "The Wrestler."
Winslet's hopes of a first Academy Award after missing out on five previous occasions are threatened by two-time Oscar-winner Meryl Streep, with Melissa Leo ("Frozen River") tipped as a dark horse.
In the supporting categories, late Australian actor Heath Ledger is poised to become only the second performer in history to win a posthumous Oscar, a year after his death from a drug overdose in New York.
Bookmakers have installed Ledger as the 1/50 favorite to win for his turn as the villainous Joker in Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight."
In the supporting actress category, Penelope Cruz is favorite the first Spanish actress to win an Oscar for her performance in Woody Allen comedy "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."
The other element of surprise around Sunday's show is the new-look format being promised by organizers as they seek to bounce back from 2008 television viewing figures that were the worst in Oscars history.
Show producers have promised tweaks to the format for this year's event, even withholding the names of Oscars presenters in an effort to build hype.
"It's going to be a show that takes some bold risks," said Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.
While organizers seek to put some sparkly into Sunday's show, the Oscars has not been able to shake off the recession blues ravaging the US economy.
Event planners say there are fewer of the lavish Oscar-night parties dotted throughout Los Angeles in previous years while studios are believed to have slashed advertising dollars in campaigning for statuettes.
Even plastic surgeons say that while business for non-surgical comsetic procedures has picked up in the weeks leading to the Oscars, the spike is not as high as usual.