And the Oscar for the worst-attended party goes to...

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The Independent US

The favourite to win Best Picture at the Oscars tomorrow night may be Gladiator, but even if it does walk off with the grand prize its cast and crew will have no party to go to afterwards.

The favourite to win Best Picture at the Oscars tomorrow night may be Gladiator, but even if it does walk off with the grand prize its cast and crew will have no party to go to afterwards.

DreamWorks, the studio co-founded by Steven Spielberg, has decided to forgo the lavish spending of last year when it swept the Academy Awards with American Beauty, opting instead for a heavily scaled back event tonight, 24 hours ahead of the ceremony. The same will be true if the winner is Traffic, Steven Soderbergh's story of America's war on drugs. USA Films is limiting its Oscars entertainment budget to a small dinner for cast and crew.

Almost all the studios have cut back heavily on Oscars-night parties, and that's only one of many dampeners this year. The industry is bracing itself for a strike by actors and writers this summer that would, in effect, shut down film production. The economy is hurtling towards recession. And California is in the grip of an electricity crisis that could knock out the lights at the few parties still slated to go ahead.

As Oscar-nominated actors and directors have made the rounds of guild ceremonies, industry dinners, talk shows and all the other trappings of awards season, they have been peppered with the same question from their drivers, their hair stylists, even the waiters serving them their sushi rolls and San Pellegrino water: Will I have a job this summer?

Mood, as much as money, explains the waning enthusiasm for huge parties. So tomorrow night there will be the obligatory Governor's Ball, hosted by California's top political brass, and the now-inevitable Vanity Fair party, the ultimate opportunity to be crushed to a pulp by exceedingly famous people, at a West Hollywood restaurant with only one-fifth of the required space. Then it will be home to bed before midnight. Because of accelerated production schedules imposed out of fear of a strike, most participants will have to be up first thing on Monday to get back to their film sets or editing suites.

The Oscars are nothing if not a symbolic moment in the great American cultural parade. Last year, with the dot.com stock boom at its height and the country in the grip of a take-take-take mentality, the statuettes were stolen from a warehouse, though they were later recovered from a rubbish skip. This year, with everything tumbling down around the industry, preparations for the ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles were marred by a collapsing scaffold that injured five people.

The gloom is taking fun out of the usual pre-Oscars guessing games. Despite the efforts of some newspaper journalists to depict this year's race as a close one, the front-runners in the main categories are all fairly well established.

Gladiator's only serious competition for Best Picture looks to be Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee's stunning reworking of the martial arts genre that would make Oscars history if it won because it is in Mandarin, not English. Lee is the clear favourite for Best Director, and will almost certainly pick up the statuette for Best Foreign-Language Film too.

Julia Roberts has a lock on the Best Actress award for her work in Erin Brockovich. Russell Crowe will probably get Best Actor (for his body of work as much as his physical exertions in Gladiator), although Tom Hanks in Cast Away could give him a run for his money.

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