Though comedy films don't have a huge place among the Oscar nominees, producers of the Academy Awards are counting on a few gags, some skits and what's promising to be an outlandish red carpet appearance by Sacha Baron Cohen to drum up laughs on Sunday evening.

The U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presents the Oscars, was initially wary of Borat and Bruno star Cohen's widely broadcast plan to crash the red carpet — in character as a faux, Middle Eastern despot for his upcoming film The Dictator — fearing the stunt would upstage the nominees.

However, the group seems to have come around.

"We're thrilled to have him," said show producer Brian Grazer.

Cohen, a cast member of Martin Scorsese's lead Oscar contender Hugo, won't be the only edgy comedian to appear at the Hollywood & Highland Center (formerly the Kodak Theatre) on Sunday.

Comic actors Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis have a "great gag" planned for the Oscars gala, while the list of presenters will include 30 Rock creator and star Tina Fey, The Hangover's Bradley Cooper as well as the cast of the hit comedy Bridesmaids, Grazer added.

More traditionally, A-list actors Tom Cruise, Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie and Michael Douglas will also take the stage to present awards, while stalwart host Billy Crystal returns for his ninth stint as Oscar emcee.

He is slated to revive two of his Oscar trademarks: a film sequence in which he is inserted digitally into scenes from the best-picture contenders and a musical tribute to the nominees.

"It's everything everybody is going to want to see from Billy Crystal," Grazer said. "Billy was born for this job. He loves being the host and he does it with complete zest and enthusiasm. He makes it fun for everybody."

The veteran host stepped into the role when previously announced emcee Eddie Murphy withdrew. Murphy left in solidarity with his friend Brett Ratner, who resigned from producing the broadcast amid controversy over his use of a gay slur.

Serious nominees

Favoured films heading into Sunday's award ceremony are largely dramas, including Scorsese's 3D children's tale Hugo, the black-and-white silent film homage The Artist, the Hawaii-set family drama The Descendants and the civil rights-era tale The Help.

Actors vying for Oscar hardware include The Help's Viola Davis, Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady, The Artist star Jean Dujardin and George Clooney for The Descendants.

Canadians in the Oscar race include:

  • Christopher Plummer, making a supporting actor bid for Beginners.
  • Quebec film Monsieur Lazhar, a foreign-language film nominee.
  • Polish-Canadian co-production In Darkness, also up for best foreign language film
  • Animated short film Dimanche/Sunday, a National Film Board production.
  • Animated short film Wild Life, another NFB nominee.
  • Howard Shore, original score finalist for Hugo
  • Sound mixing contender David Giammarco for Moneyball.

Professors and graduates from the visual effects program at Toronto's Seneca College also contributed to all five films nominated for visual effects.

Still, with a few exceptions like The Help, the Oscar voters largely snubbed box office blockbusters and mainstream favourites. For instance, the smash hit series finale Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was relegated to more technical categories such as makeup, art direction and visual effects.

In the past, Oscar viewership has been highest when a box office success — like Titanic in 1998 — was a key contender.

The 84th annual Academy Awards will take place in Los Angeles Sunday night, with the broadcast set to begin at 8:30 p.m. ET.

With files from The Associated Press