(HOLLYWOOD-AFP) – The race for Oscars glory comes to a climax Sunday as Hollywood gathers for the 84th Academy Awards, with hit silent movie “The Artist” and Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” leading down to the wire.
After seemingly months of campaigning and dozens of lesser prizes, Tinseltown’s annual awards season draws to a close with the biggest honors of them all, the coveted golden statuettes.
Veteran Oscars host Billy Crystal will take the stage for the lavish spectacle, watched by hundreds of millions around the world, who also tune in for the red carpet fashion parade before the show itself.
“Tonight I might tweet winner of best supporting actor. Really, who can stop me?,” Crystal, who has done the job eight times before, joked in a Twitter message on the eve of the annual Hollywood bonanza.
The show will inevitably have its share of surprises — flamboyant British actor Sacha Baron Cohen has already threatened one, and been warned by organizers against pulling a red carpet stunt to publicize his latest movie.
Glamour will also feature prominently, with last year’s best actress and actor Natalie Portman and Colin Firth the latest additions to presenters for the evening, along with Halle Berry, Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Michael Douglas, Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lopez among others.
But on the serious business of the night, veteran Scorsese’s visually rich 3D adventure “Hugo” goes into the show with the most nominations, at 11, with French-directed black-and-white “The Artist” snapping at its heels on 10.
Others hoping their name is called out for the top prize include Scorsese’s fellow heavyweights Woody Allen for his comeback hit “Midnight in Paris,” and Steven Spielberg with “War Horse.”
A-listers George Clooney and Brad Pitt will meanwhile vye for best actor, but face a possible upset from “The Artist” star Jean Dujardin, who has won critical and public acclaim for his role as a struggling silent-era movie star.
Pitt is up for his role as coach Billy Beane in baseball movie “Moneyball,” while Clooney has received widespread acclaim for his central role in “The Descendants,” a family drama set in Hawaii that is also talked about for best picture.
Mexican Demian Bichir is also in the best actor shortlist, as is Britain’s Gary Oldman for Cold War spy thriller “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
On the female front Meryl Streep is among those hotly tipped for best actress for her powerful turn as former British premier Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” against notably cross-dressing Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs.”
Rooney Mara, who plays messed-up Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” whose sleuthing skills make up for her lack of social ones, is also in the running.
But Oscar watchers say they could well all be beaten by Viola Davis, whose role as a black maid in “The Help” — set in Mississippi against the backdrop of 1960s civil rights struggle — has already won her a string of nominations.
“The Help” is also among the nine movies in the Best Picture category, along with “War Horse,” “The Artist,” “Moneyball,” “The Descendants,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Hugo” and powerful 9/11 film “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
Also up for the top prize is Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” which won the coveted Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Supporting actor top tips are Christopher Plummer in “Beginners” and Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud.” Kenneth Branagh in “My Week with Marilyn,” Jonah Hill in “Moneyball” and Nick Nolte in “Warrior” are also in the race.
For best supporting actress there are two entries from “The Help” — Jessica Chastain as the ditzy but ostracized blonde Celia, and Octavia Spencer as her maid, but the prize could go to Berenice Bejo from “The Artist.”
Emmy-winning Melissa McCarthy is also in the running for her performance as plump and feisty — and, let’s face it, slightly gross — Megan in girls-night-out film “Bridesmaids,” along with Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs.”
The easy foreign language frontrunner is Iran’s “A Separation,” which has already won a series of awards season prizes, up against Belgium’s “Bullhead,” “Footnote” (Israel), “In Darkness” (Poland) and “Monsieur Lazhar” (Canada).