LOS ANGELES - The world's biggest stars began arriving on Sunday for an Oscars ceremony filled with suspense over the movie industry's biggest prize and a night of what could be history-making firsts.
Spike Lee, a first-time best director nominee for "BlacKkKlansman," was one of the first on the sunny but unseasonably cool red carpet in Hollywood, dressed in a purple suit, matching chauffeur's cap, gold-coloured sneakers and knuckle rings spelling "Love" and "Hate."
"Crazy Rich Asians" star Constance Wu chose a custom Versace bright marigold chiffon gown, while "Kinky Boots" stage actor Billy Porter was bold in a black velvet tuxedo-style ball gown with a dramatic flowing skirt.
"Roma" best actress nominee Yalitiza Aparicio chose a mint green fairy-tale gown, while "American Idol" singer Adam Lambert, who will perform at the show with British rock band Queen, wore a white orchid on the lapel of a tuxedo worn with oversize white cuffs.
Without a host for the first time in 30 years, there's also curiosity over whether organizers can return the Academy Awards to a must-see television event after a record low audience in 2018.
In addition to Queen and Lambert, Lady Gaga, Bette Midler and Jennifer Hudson are all set to perform. Tennis champion Serena Williams and talk show host Trevor Noah will also appear on the Dolby Theatre stage in Hollywood in a bid to broaden the show's appeal beyond movie fans.
"Gaga will bring it, she always brings it," songwriter Diane Warren, nominated for her original song "I'll Fight" from documentary "RBG," said on the red carpet.
"I saw the rehearsal of Jennifer (Hudson) on my song. The roof's going to get blown off of this place," Warren added.
Despite the celebrity names, all eyes are on the best picture prize in one of the most eclectic Oscar line-ups for years.
Disney's "Black Panther," the first superhero movie ever nominated for best picture, will compete against popular musicals "A Star is Born" from Warner Bros and 21st Century Fox film "Bohemian Rhapsody," along with racially themed "Green Book" and "BlacKkKlansman" from Universal Pictures.
Black-and-white Mexican film "Roma," quirky 18th century Fox Searchlight comedy "The Favourite" and independent political satire "Vice" round out the competition
After two months of intense and costly campaigning, award watchers say the winner is anyone's guess.
"Best picture is probably a toss up between 'Roma' and 'Green Book,' and I can maybe see 'BlacKkKlansman' sneaking in to win," Alison Willmore, critic and culture writer at BuzzFeed News, said ahead of the show.
The winners are chosen by the 8,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
A victory for "Roma," director Alfonso Cuaron's sentimental journey back to his childhood, would mark the first Oscar best picture win for Netflix and a sign that streaming services can not only compete with traditional Hollywood studios, but beat them at their own game.
"Roma," shot entirely in Spanish and with 10 Oscar nominations, is also considered the front-runner in the foreign language category. No foreign language film has ever won best picture, and no movie has ever won both.
Lady Gaga is widely expected to take home her first Oscar for her hit song "Shallow," which she will perform on Sunday in a much-anticipated live duet with co-star and best actor nominee Bradley Cooper.
Gaga is also competing for best actress for her role as a struggling singer in "A Star is Born." Pundits, however, expect that statuette to go to Glenn Close for "The Wife," who would finally clinch an Oscar on her 7th attempt.
It could be a momentous night for diversity.
Director Lee is vying to become the first black director to win an Oscar for his explosive take on US race relations in "BlacKkKlansman"; Rami Malek, who has Egyptian heritage, could be named best actor for his performance as the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in "Bohemian Rhapsody;" Regina King ("If Beale Street Could Talk") and Mahershala Ali ("Green Book") are also seen as strong contenders in the supporting actor races.