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Suspense Ahead of Sunday's Oscars Presentation - 2002-03-19

Accountants will soon start to count the ballots for the movie industry's Academy Awards, which will be presented Sunday evening. Preparations for the event are already underway, as police impose the tightest security restrictions in the history of the Oscars.

The Oscar presentation was a small affair in 1929, when the first awards were given out in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The event took place a short walk down Hollywood Boulevard from this year's presentation site, the Kodak Theatre.

Now, the eyes of the world are on this newly built complex in the heart of Hollywood, the section of Los Angeles where the West Coast movie industry got its start.

In the wake of last year's terror attacks in New York and Washington, security officials say they're not taking any chances at the Oscars. Sunday, subway trains will bypass the Hollywood-Highland station, the site of the Kodak complex. And instead of the thousands of people who usually crowd the Oscar site, just 400 pre-screened fans will be allowed in the bleachers outside the theater entrance. Street closures have already begun, and by Sunday, access to the area will be tightly restricted.

Some shopkeepers are angry. Steve Greco owns a pizza restaurant across the street from the theater, and says he will lose business. "Everything is going to be closed in this area, no traffic, no customers," he laments.

But for nominated performers, the security shouldn't diminish the excitement of the evening. Nicole Kidman is an Oscar nominee for best actress for her role in Moulin Rouge, a musical set in turn-of-the-century Paris. The actress feels the industry needs the glamour of this annual celebration.

"As a girl, it's kind of fun to go get dressed up and celebrate that side of it," he said. "And I think also just being a celebration of film, and at a time now when people feel like saying 'OK, let's embrace life a little bit.'"

John Voight is an Oscar nominee for his supporting role in Ali, a film about boxing legend Muhammad Ali. For the actor, the Oscars combine excitement, fun and tension.

"All these very dignified people are put out into the audience and the camera's on every one of us and it becomes this kind of game show," he said. "And four of us are going to go 'Oh,' and the one guy who gets his name read, he's going to go up and give a speech."

For winners, there are interviews in the pressroom and congratulations from friends and admirers, then a formal dinner and series of parties.

Some actors say it is difficult to honor a single performer when so many provide outstanding performances. Tom Wilkinson is a nominee for best actor for his role in In the Bedroom, a story about a couple whose son is murdered. The actor has mixed feelings about Hollywood competitions like the Oscars. "Best Actor? It's like saying, is apple pie better than chocolate cake? It depends. Scrap the lot of them," he says. "But then, they're an awful lot of fun."

Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson says by Monday, he'll be home and happy not to walk down another red carpet, for at least another six months. That's when Hollywood starts to take a look at next year's Oscar candidates.

"Five-thousand seven-hundred ballots were mailed to Oscar voters, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences," he said. "Tuesday was the deadline for returning the ballots."

Only two people will know the identities of the winners in advance. Greg Garrison and Rick Rosas of the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers will tabulate the results and place the names of Oscar winners in sealed envelopes. That process, as always, is highly secure. To learn who the winners are, the rest of the world will have to wait for the Oscar presentation Sunday evening.