( AP )- Steady rain was a mere annoyance at Sunday's Academy Awards, which got under way as a dual celebration honoring the best in film and signaling that life in Hollywood was good again after a debilitating writers strike.
The show began with a fanfare and an effects-laden opening segment showing key characters and creatures from Hollywood's past lining Hollywood Boulevard.
As rain fell throughout much of the day, thousands of fans packed the bleachers and streets around the Kodak Theatre, hoping to catch a glimpse of Hollywood's biggest stars as they arrived for the 80th annual Oscars.
"It's really sort of like a greenhouse in here," said Steve Carell as he arrived on the red carpet. "It's like hydroponics."
The rain, often heavy, arrived hours before the stars did, drenching fans on Hollywood Boulevard. But the red carpet remained dry under a tent, as did the bleachers where people lucky enough to win tickets by lottery sat waiting to cheer on their favorite stars.
George Clooney, a best-actor contender for "Michael Clayton," arrived 90 minutes before the show with girlfriend Sarah Larson and stopped along the bleachers to shake the hands of several screaming female fans. Tom Wilkinson, nominated for supporting actor for "Michael Clayton," stopped briefly to wave and flash a shy smile.
"The thought of being able to see celebrities and being part of the action you see on TV and you're there watching it. It's something you don't do in everyday life. It's almost like it's not real," said Lynn Lilje, who traveled from Vancouver to sit in the bleachers.
Settled just two weeks before the Oscars, the 100-day strike had left the fate of the show in doubt as stars indicated they would not cross writers' picket lines to attend. The celebrity bash at the Golden Globes wound up canceled for just that reason, so Oscar organizers figured everyone was ready for a big party.
"Not only have there not been any awards shows, but I think there's a good solid buzz about the strike being over (and) everybody back to work," academy president Sid Ganis said going into Oscar weekend.
Too bad there wasn't as much suspense over likely Oscar winners as there had been about the show itself.
The surprise best-picture win of "Crash" over " Brokeback Mountain" two years ago remained fresh in awards watchers' minds, but Sunday's show generally had been expected to crown favorites that had dominated throughout awards season, led by the Coen brothers' crime tale "No Country for Old Men."
Past screenplay winners for "Fargo," Joel and Ethan Coen went into the evening positioned to make Oscar history with potential wins in all four categories in which they had individual nominations - best picture, director, adapted screenplay and editing (under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes).
Only one person, Walt Disney, had won four Oscars in the same year, his prizes coming as producer of three short films and the documentary that won for 1953. No one has ever won four Oscars for the same film.
"No Country for Old Men" and the oil saga "There Will Be Blood" lead with eight nominations each, followed by the tragic romance "Atonement" and the legal thriller "Michael Clayton" with seven apiece.
All four films competed for best picture, with the pregnancy comedy "Juno" earning the fifth slot for the top prize.
Past Oscar winners were the favorites in the lead-acting categories, with Daniel Day-Lewis of "There Will Be Blood" and Julie Christie of "Away From Her" expected to triumph.
Javier Bardem was the front-runner to win supporting actor for "No Country for Old Men." Supporting actress was a toss-up, with many critics favoring Amy Ryan for "Gone Baby Gone" and much sentiment riding on Ruby Dee of "American Gangster," who at 83 would be the oldest acting winner ever.