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Countdown to the Oscars: Who’s favored to win?

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(CNN) — The 87th Academy Awards began with a surprise: Rain on the red carpet.

There might be a few more surprises before the night is out.

The wet stars have a rather competitive night to look forward to, particularly for best picture. The two leading candidates suggest a Battle of the Bs: “Birdman” or “Boyhood.”

Both movies play with time — “Birdman” through the appearance of consisting of one single shot, “Boyhood” through a 12-year journey of growing up — but that’s where the similarities end.

“Birdman” stars Michael Keaton as a former superhero actor trying to reignite his career with a Broadway show. It’s taut, intense and occasionally frantic, with the performances set to a propulsive drum soundtrack.

“Boyhood,” on the other hand, finds its truths in small moments in the life of its central character, a 6-year-old boy (Ellar Coltrane) who was revisited in real time by director Richard Linklater over more than a decade. It’s meandering and charming where “Birdman” is in-your-face and cutting.

“Boyhood” director Richard Linklater had a just-happy-to-be-here attitude about his unlikely best picture nominee.

“We had a lot of people pulling for us,” he told CNN on the red carpet. “We’ll take whatever we get.”

“Boyhood” seemed to have the early edge, but recent victories for “Birdman” — including wins at the Producers Guild Awards and Saturday’s Independent Spirit honors — have made it the frontrunner.

Not that best picture is a sure thing for either movie. “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood’s film about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, has been a much talked about box office smash and could sneak into the winner’s circle (toting an obviously fake baby, no doubt). Certainly star Bradley Cooper, up for his third straight Oscar, may be gaining in the best actor race.

#AskHerMore

The weather didn’t dampen the spirits of the celebrities arriving for Hollywood’s biggest night, though their outfits appear subdued in color, with lots of whites, blacks, silvers and grays.

Lady Gaga added some red with what appeared to be exaggerated dishwashing gloves.

Best supporting actress nominee Patricia Arquette decided to split the difference, with her gown consisting of a white top and black skirt.

So did comedian Kevin Hart, who was wearing a tuxedo featuring a white jacket with black lapels, along with a black shirt, black tie and white pants.

“When you’re on the red carpet, you might as well pop,” he told CNN.

However, a Twitter hashtag was encouraging interviewers to ask celebrities more than just “Who are you wearing?” The trending hashtag was #AskHerMore.

NPH and ‘anticipation’

Last year’s Oscars featured host Ellen DeGeneres and trended on Twitter as well, setting a record for most retweeted photo. This year, Neil Patrick Harris is handling the hosting duties. He’s proven to be an able emcee, having handled the Tonys and Emmys, but this is his first time in the Oscar crucible.

He’ll have his game face on, but he told the Los Angeles Times that it’s a “lose-lose” proposition.

“(There’s) so much anticipation, and so many (Oscar-viewing) parties where people are hoping that things go wrong. It’s not really an audience wanting you to win,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Well, maybe his night will be interrupted by some politics.

There was a lot of surprise when “Selma,” the film about the 1965 civil rights march, received just two nominations (including one for best picture) and none of its performers received acting nominations. In fact, the lack of diversity among performers in general prompted the hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite.”

Moreover, one of the nominees for best documentary is “CitizenFour,” about Edward Snowden and the NSA. If it wins — and it’s considered the frontrunner — there may be chatter about the role of surveillance in modern society.

Shoo-ins and surprises

Both topics may be played for laughs, of course. The Oscars’ opening number is an excuse for Hollywood to poke fun at itself, and there’s any number of people and activities waiting to be exploited — whether it’s lack of diversity or the Sony hacking scandal.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. Some categories have long been considered shoo-ins for certain performers — if J.K. Simmons doesn’t win best supporting actor, jaws will fall all over Hollywood — while others, including best picture, may go down to the wire.

It could make for an electric night — rain notwithstanding.

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