LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Whether it's the recession, the age of Obama or the fact a hopeful movie is favored to win best film, it's clear that change has come to Hollywood as Oscar week kicks off on Monday.
Movie fans and critics have escaped the gloomy economy by seeking out Academy Award front-runner "Slumdog Millionaire," a rags-to-riches romance about a poor, young Indian man on an odds-defying quest on a television game show.
"Slumdog" follows two straight years of dark crime dramas -- "No Country for Old Men" and "The Departed" -- winning the world's top film honor, the Oscar, for best motion picture.
Party planners and caterers say plans for Oscar festivities have slowed ahead of Sunday's Oscar show. Celebrity gift-getting suites are open for business but organizers say giving back seems to be more of a priority among the stars.
"Obama asked us for a day of service and we're asking for a night to make a difference," celebrity talk show hostess Leeza Gibbons said.
Gibbons and singer Olivia Newton-John's are hosting an Oscar night benefit for Gibbons' Memory Foundation and Newton-John's Cancer and Wellness Center.
"A lot of the glamour associated with the Oscars is still there but it's tempered by the economic times," Gibbons said.
Vanity Fair, which once ruled the roost of Oscar parties, will renew its annual gala but the affair will be toned down compared to previous years due, in part, to the recession.
Elton John and David Furnish are hosting their annual charity event but gone are last year's competing private affairs held by pop stars Madonna and Prince. In their place, Hollywood's elite may be rolling over to a Mercedes-Benz-sponsored party.
Budgets have been reduced for many of these lavish pre-Oscar and Oscar night events. "Some haven't cut 1 percent; others have cut 75 percent," said Michael Gapinski, vice president at caterer Along Came Mary.
The posh hotel suites where fashion designers, jewelry makers and cosmetic companies pamper the stars, remain a stop on Oscar week lists. But charity also will be emphasized in the give-away suites with guests given the option of donating products or money to others, said Gavin Keilly, founder of gift suite organizer GBK Productions.
Oscar organizers also promise a new look to the gala awards ceremony on Sunday night. Earlier this month Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the awards, said the show's producers "are going to take some risks, many risks, some bold."
He did not detail the risks and producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark -- who backed movie musical "Dreamgirls" -- also are being tight-lipped. Australian song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman is the host, a spot usually reserved for a comedian, so many observers expect a music-oriented type of stage show.
What is known is that "Slumdog," with a cast of mostly unknown Indian actors, is clearly favored to win best movie after sweeping up awards from Hollywood producers, directors and writers, many of whom also belong to the Academy. The movie's British director, Danny Boyle, is the front-runner for the directing prize.
The other nominees are "Milk," about slain gay activist Harvey Milk; "Frost/Nixon," recounting TV interviews of former U.S. President Richard Nixon by British TV host David Frost; "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," starring Brad Pitt as a man who ages backwards; and the Holocaust drama "The Reader."
A close race is expected in the best actor category between Sean Penn as Harvey Milk and Mickey Rourke playing a faded sports star in "The Wrestler." Frank Langella as Nixon is a dark horse nominee who could break through.
Kate Winslet playing a woman with a secret past in "The Reader" and Meryl Streep as Catholic nun out to stop sexual abuse in "Doubt" are in a pitched battle for best actress.
The late Heath Ledger is widely expected to pick up best supporting actor as villain The Joker in Batman movie "The Dark Knight" and Penelope Cruz is picked by many to win best supporting actress as an artist in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."
Editing by Bill Trott