Newcomers to light up Oscars red carpet

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The Independent Culture

Complete unknowns and seasoned professionals enjoying their first nomination will rub shoulders as the Oscars red carpet welcomes an unusually large number of first-time nominees.

No fewer than 14 actors, actresses and directors out of a total of 25 nominees will for the first time be bidding for one of the coveted statuettes when the 82nd Academy Awards are handed out Sunday at the Kodak Theater.

The roll call of talent includes Gabourey Sidibe, Sandra Bullock, Colin Firth, Jeremy Renner, Mo'Nique, Stanley Tucci as well as "The Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow and Lee Daniels.

Sasha Stone, who runs the website, said the bevy of new faces would be welcomed by Oscars organizers as they sought to attract viewers and generate interest in the event.

"I think lately, the Oscar race has been more about newcomers than about repeat nominees and winners," Stone told AFP.

"I think it might have to do with a desire to have new blood in the Academy, being sort of tired with the same old things.

"A newcomer offers a fresh face, and it revives the category and the potential win is more exciting for someone that you have never seen before."

The 14 newcomers are roughly split between unknowns just starting out on movie careers and veterans who for one reason or another have been routinely ignored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Gabby Sidibe, nominated for her portrayal of an obese, illiterate, sexually abused teenager in the independent drama "Precious," could be one of the most inexperienced Oscar winners in history if she claims the best actress prize.

Sidibe would be the first performer to win an Oscar for her debut film role since deaf actress Marlee Matlin triumphed in 1987 for her performance in "Children of a Lesser God."

Sidibe faces stiff competition however from Sandra Bullock, one of Hollywood's best known actresses who is regarded as the favorite for her performance in "The Blind Side."

Bullock has built support because of the perception that she is a long-time veteran deserving of reward, Stone said. "She's been around so long, she hasn't got any recognition. So now people feel good about voting for her, because they feel she has paid her due," she told AFP.

Bullock, 45, admitted she was as surprised as anyone to receive a nomination despite a stellar year that saw her carry two films to a combined box office of more than 700 million dollars.

"Does anybody expect a nomination? I certainly didn't," she told reporters at a luncheon for nominees last month. "I'm really amazed and thankful to be here because I'd like to work hard for another 10 or 15 years."

Stone believes the presence of so many new faces in the Oscars line-up is partly down to slick campaigning by publicists, pointing to the presence, citing the example of British newcomer Carey Mulligan in the best actress race.

"When I think of a newcomer, like Carey Mulligan, it's hard for me to think of her without also thinking of the team pushing her," Stone said. "It's hard for me to separate the performance and the contender from the publicity team.

"I would say a 40 percent of the buzz or the power of a win is due to publicists, pushing these newcomers and making them very familiar with voters."

But for Jeremy Renner, nominated in the best actor category for his performance in the Iraq war film "The Hurt Locker," just earning a nod is reward enough. The nomination was "a blazing stamp in the passport of an artist that can never be taken away and will always be cherished," he said.