© Reuters. Billie Eilish, Billy Porter help kick off rain-hit Oscar red carpet

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Heavy rain marred the start of the Oscars on Sunday, sending workers scurrying to hold off leaks on the red carpet as Hollywood’s biggest night got underway.

Chilly weather and dark clouds over Hollywood brought a downpour just before A-list stars began arriving at the Dolby Theatre. Despite workers using long sticks to push away rain pooling off the plastic covering the red carpet, some rain dripped in, making the going squishy.

However the parade of celebrities went ahead, with Billy Porter, who was co-hosting the red carpet pre-show, sporting a gold feathered sleeveless top, flowing orange skirt and platform shoes.

Five-time Grammy winner Billie Eilish, due to perform on Sunday, sported a white wool Chanel coat, baggy pants and sneakers topped off with long black-painted nails and her trademark green hair.

Director Spike Lee saluted Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash late last month, by wearing the gold number 24 embroidered on the back and front of his purple tuxedo.

The cast of best picture nominee “Parasite” arrived en masse on a night that could see the South Korean movie make history as the first in a foreign language to win the best picture Oscar.

“Regardless of the outcome, we are just so happy for these nominations,” director Bong Joon Ho told reporters of the social satire’s six nods.

The coveted best picture prize, to be announced at the end of the three-hour show, is thought to be a three-way race between “Parasite,” British director Sam Mendes’ immersive World War One movie “1917” from Universal Pictures , and Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to show business, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” from Sony Pictures (T:).

“The smart bet is definitely ‘1917,’ but I do not rule out the possibility of something else winning, whether that be ‘Parasite’ or ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,’ or ‘Jojo Rabbit’,” Scott Feinberg, awards columnist for The Hollywood Reporter, said ahead of the show.

Dark comic book movie “Joker” from Warner Bros (N:), which has a leading 11 nominations, Netflix (O:) divorce drama “Marriage Story” and the streaming service’s mob epic “The Irishman,” race-car drama “Ford v Ferrari” from 20th Century Studios (N:), and novel adaptation “Little Women” from Sony Pictures, round out the competition for the top prize.

The winners are chosen by the 8,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the show has no host for a second year.

Netflix boosted its Hollywood credentials by getting a leading 24 nominations this year, including for drama “The Two Popes,” animated movie “Klaus,” and documentary “American Factory.” But the coveted best picture Oscar may elude it yet again on Sunday, awards watchers say.

A poor year for diversity, with Cynthia Erivo the only actor of color in the race and an all-male director field, has revived the #OscarsSoWhite debate of four years ago.

Erivo, who played slavery-era freedom fighter Harriet Tubman in “Harriet,” is likely to lose out in the best actor category to Renee Zellweger, who has swept up awards this season for her performance as an aging Judy Garland in “Judy.”

Brad Pitt has stormed back as a leading Hollywood man after a period out of the public eye during his bitter divorce from Angelina Jolie, and is seen as a shoo-in for the supporting actor Oscar for his laid-back stuntman role in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Joaquin Phoenix is the favorite to win his first Oscar for a disturbing performance as a loner clown who turns to violence in “Joker,” while Scarlett Johansson is nominated for her roles in both “Jojo Rabbit” and “Marriage Story.” No actor has won two Oscars on the same night

The Academy Awards will be televised live from Hollywood on ABC television, starting at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST (0100 GMT on Monday).

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