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    Hollywood's A-list lights up Oscar red carpet

    Los Angeles: Hollywood's top stars began their annual parade up the red carpet and into the world's top film honours, the Oscars, on Sunday where "The King's Speech" and "the Social Network" will vie for best picture.

    The ceremony features two youthful co-hosts, actors James Franco, 32, and Anne Hathaway, 28, marking the first time a man and woman have presided the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' big night.

    Hathaway is the youngest host ever for one of the most-watched TV specials in the United States that also is broadcast live in more than 200 countries worldwide.

    She arrived on the carpet in a strapless, red Valentino gown alongside nominees such as Melissa Leo, who is up for best supporting actress in "The Fighter", and 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, also nominated for supporting actress in "True Grit," who similarly dazzled fans in glamorous gowns.

    Leo chose designer Marc Bouwer to dress her in a structured dress and bold print, and Steinfeld was fashioned by Marchesa in a light pink tea dress that designer Randolph Duke, who was watching events unfold, called "50s redux."

    Steinfeld, he said, showed "the perfect balance between being a young girl and a young woman."

    Brash comedian Russell Brand, who will present an Oscar, turned up with his mother. He said Helen Mirren told him to "express myself creatively and not worry about censors" who will be watching the live program for any verbal slip-ups.

    Later, A-list stars such as Natalie Portman, Javier Bardem and Colin Firth will parade up the carpet outside the Kodak Theatre where Hollywood's biggest event takes place.

    Producers say the ceremony, at which 24 awards will be given out in just over three hours, is meant to connect movie fans to the Hollywood of old, while also giving a nod to the future with web cams and Twitter feeds.

    The Oscar Sweepstakes

    Already in the months ahead of Sunday's big awards, a stream of honours have come from industry groups such as the New York Film Critics Circle, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Directors Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild.

    Where Oscar is concerned, fans saw "Social Network," which tells of the rise of Facebook from college-oriented website to global phenomenon, scoop up many early critics awards.

    But as the season played out, "The King's Speech," which tells of a stuttering British king facing his personal demons, was embraced by numerous movie professional groups.

    Now, the two will face-off for the Oscars with "King's Speech" tipped as the favourite.

    Colin Firth, in the starring role of King George VI in "King's Speech," is widely expected to win best actor because he has claimed most honours from both critics and industry groups. Similarly, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, both in boxing drama "The Fighter," are front-runners in supporting categories.

    The race for best actress is close between "Black Swan" ballerina Natalie Portman and A-lister Annette Bening playing a lesbian mother with family issues in "The Kids Are All Right." The category of best director is tight between "Facebook" veteran David Fincher and "King's Speech" newcomer Tom Hooper.

    Will there be a surprise? Oscar watchers think not.

    "It looks as if the front-runners will cross the finish line," said Tom O'Neil, veteran Oscar watcher at awards websites goldderby.com and theenvelope.com.

    But anything could happen. As they say in Hollywood, the red carpet is rolled out, the champagne is on ice and the limousines are waiting. It's Oscar time.