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Rumours swirl as the Academy preps top-secret show Sat. Feb. 21 2009 Sheri Block, CTV.ca

Movies-Freida-Pinto-Slumdog-MillionaireHeath Ledger and “Slumdog Millionaire” are poised to sweep some of the biggest Academy Awards, but there’s still plenty of suspense in store for Oscar viewers. The show’s producers are promising big and bold changes to the main event.

As the clock ticks down to the biggest night in Hollywood, the Internet is buzzing with rumours about possible surprises from first-time show producers Laurence Mark and Bill Condon. The duo were responsible for reviving the movie musical with “Dreamgirls” and might just do the same trick for the Oscars.

“I hope it does what they want it to do,” says Canada AM movie critic Richard Crouse. “They’re showbiz guys, they understand how to put together a show that will attract people.”

Choosing Broadway over comedy with host Hugh Jackman, unveiling a new set and keeping the presenters top secret are just some of the major changes in the works.

The presenter list is being kept top secret, and those who are handing out Oscar statuettes are asked to enter the Kodak Theatre quietly, and skip the red carpet this year. Their designer duds and jewels will make their big reveal on the show itself.

But will the stars behave and obey the new rules? Word is that nominees Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie may cross paths on the red carpet with Brad’s ex, Jennifer Aniston, and her new beau John Mayer. Jolie is rumoured to have spent the past week seeking a $20-million necklace in an effort to dazzle the cameras in the event of a run-in. Can this foursome avoid a red carpet encounter? Will Aniston be assigned to hand out the Best Actor award?

“I think it’s a great idea to sneak in the presenters through the back door and not let the general public have a look at them until they come out on stage,” says Crouse.

“If you don’t see them on the red carpet the idea is that you’ll tune into the ceremony to see them — and I think that could very well work.”

Other plans include:

* Keeping the speeches to a strict 45-second limit (we’ll believe it when we see it!)
* Handing the awards out in a new order, possibly grouped in themes.
* Cutting back on the musical numbers, but teaming Jackman up with director Baz Luhrmann for something spectacular.

Peter Gabriel was apparently so ticked about being asked to sing a condensed version of “Down To Earth” from “WALL-E” — in a medley with the two other songs nominated from “Slumdog Millionaire” — that he backed out of the performance altogether.

Gabriel will be in the audience in event of a win, and there will be plenty of other musicians on stage. There are indications Beyonce will perform (she’s been spotted rehearsing in New York), and the younger demo would be thrilled if “High School Musical” stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens do a number.

It all begs the question: Is there anything about this year’s show that will still resemble the Oscars?

“It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if they radically changed it … these shows have to change otherwise people just get tired of it,” says Crouse.

Crouse will be watching the awards Sunday night at Toronto’s Drake Hotel, where he’s hosting a free Oscars party, and he thinks all the buzz will have many others glued to their screens as well.

“I think there’s just been enough talk about how much things are changing — about how they want to keep it to three hours and of Hugh Jackman and what he’ll do — that people are curious about it.”

Watch CTV’s live coverage of 2009’s Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 22 at 8:30 p.m. EST.

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