Curtain goes up on Oscars

LOS ANGELES — Another year, another Oscars, and Jennifer Lawrence is still stumbling and laughing about it.

A year after Jennifer Lawrence memorably tripped on her way up the stairs to accept best actress for “Silver Linings Playbook,” the young actress briefly stumbled just as she was hitting the red carpet and waving to fans. She was quickly pulled up after momentarily collapsing in a heap of red gown and self-deprecating laughter.

The 86th annual Academy Awards got underway at 8:30 p.m. with a ceremony hosted by Ellen DeGeneres. After a blustery few days of torrential downpours, Hollywood appears ready for smooth sailing at Sunday’s show — even if sure footing was proving elusive for some.

Best-actor nominee Matthew McConaughey was greeted by fans in bleachers along the red carpet humming and patting their chests as he does in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Lupita Nyong’o, the “12 Years a Slave” nominated star and new red carpet favorite, wore a flowing ice blue Prada gown that she said reminded her of her Kenyan home.

The Oscars promise a music-filled ceremony, including the best-song favorite “Let it Go,” sung by Broadway’s Idina Menzel in Disney’s “Frozen.”

“If I wasn’t nervous, something would be a little off,” said Menzel.

Unlike the stormy hosting of Seth MacFarlane last year, the nimble, sneaker-wearing DeGeneres is expected to return the broadcast to more traditional territory. Many of the night’s biggest categories, too, seem to hold little chance for surprise.

The well-established favorites include McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Nyong’o and Jared Leto. Each comes into Oscar Sunday having won a parade of awards over the last few months, including honors at Saturday’s Spirit Awards.

The night’s biggest question mark won’t come until the very end. The historical drama “12 Years a Slave,” the 3-D space spectacle “Gravity” and the con-artist caper “American Hustle” are vying for best picture in the night’s closest contest.

Though the Oscar ceremony is almost always a glitzy bubble separate from real-world happenings, international events in Ukraine and Venezuela could be felt Sunday. Russian state-owned broadcaster Channel One Russia said it would not broadcast the Oscars live because of the necessity for news coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. It will instead transmit the Oscars early Tuesday morning, local time.

Venezuelan protesters, via social media, were urging Oscar winners to bring attention to their plight. Anti-government protests have roiled Venezuela in recent weeks.

“Gravity” is expected to lead the ceremony in total awards, cleaning up in technical categories like visual effects and cinematography. Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron is considered a lock for best director for seamlessly marshalling new digital technology to render the lost-in-space drama. He would be the first Latino filmmaker to win the category.

While the global hit easily topped the other eight best-picture nominees at the box office, the lower budget, less widely seen “12 Years a Slave” is believed to have a narrow edge for the academy’s top honor.

Though voters last year chose entertainment over history lesson (Ben Affleck’s “Argo” over Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”), many see Steve McQueen’s brutal adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir as a landmark film difficult to watch but impossible to overlook.

ABC, which is telecasting the ceremony, hopes the drama of the best-picture race will be enough to entice viewers. The show last year drew an audience of 40.3 million, up from 39.3 million the year before when the silent-film ode “The Artist” won best picture.

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Associated Press writers Andrew Dalton, Nekesa Mumbi Moody and E.J.Tamara contributed to this report.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake—coyle

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