The campaigning is over. The red carpet is rolled out. And Hollywood is braced for its starriest night of the year.
The final countdown to the Oscars is under way with Birdman and Boyhood vying to win best picture at Sunday’s ceremony.
Richard Linklater’s drama Boyhood has been tipped to win for months.
But a flock of recent awards victories for Birdman has seen Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s showbiz satire swoop in as a late contender.
The 87th Academy Awards, this year hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, take place at Hollywood’s 3,300-seat Dolby Theatre.
Harris has promised “a hint of magic” while performers at this year’s ceremony include Lady Gaga, Rita Ora, Jennifer Hudson and Anna Kendrick.
Security is tighter than ever this year around the Oscars’ venue, the Dolby Theatre
Outside the venue, a section of Hollywood Boulevard is sealed off ready for the annual influx of A-listers as well as lesser-known nominees from the other side of the camera.
Security around the event is said to be the most sophisticated yet, with 1,000 police officers on duty and operations being run from an underground bunker.
On Thursday afternoon the streets near the Oscar venue were in lockdown after a suspected bomb threat which proved to be false.
The final round of voting by the Academy’s 6,292 members ended on Tuesday.
Many of the nominees have been attending a flurry of pre-Oscar events and screenings in and around Los Angeles.
There are eight contenders for best picture:
- American Sniper
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- The Imitation Game
- The Theory of Everything
Birdman and Wes Anderson’s quirky comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel have nine nominations each. The Imitation Game, with British actor Benedict Cumberbatch as codebreaking genius Alan Turing, has eight.
Clint Eastwood’s true-life Iraq war tale American Sniper and Boyhood have six apiece.
Oscar experts seem agreed the top prize will go to either Birdman or Boyhood.
“They’ve both done the rounds and picked up their share of gongs on either side of the Atlantic. Grand Budapest Hotel could be a surprise win but it’s not looking likely,” says Caroline Frost, entertainment editor of the Huffington Post UK.
Scott Feinberg, the Hollywood Reporter’s Oscars expert, thinks Birdman is the safest bet.
“Birdman might not have novelty of Boyhood, the serious themes of The Imitation Game, reflect the zeitgeist like Selma or be as moving as American Sniper, but, like two of the past three winners (The Artist and Argo), it’s about showbusiness,” he wrote in the latest edition.
One possible dark horse could be American Sniper which has taken almost $400m (£259m) at the worldwide box office – making it the highest-grossing film among the best picture nominees.
“It might give people pause for thought,” Frost says, “but it’s a very elite bunch of people on the West Coast who are voting for these awards and I don’t think Middle American cinemagoers are going to have that much sway.”
British hopefuls include Benedict Cumberbatch, Felicity Jones, Keira Knightley, Rosamund Pike and Eddie Redmayne
Leading the British charge in the acting categories is Eddie Redmayne, strongly tipped to win for his lead role as Professor Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
Frost notes the best actor race, which also includes Steve Carell, Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Keaton, is particularly strong this year.
“Benedict Cumberbatch put in the performance of a lifetime – he’s right up there with Oscar winners Colin Firth, Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley – but is still an also-ran at this stage,” she says.
“So I hope he enjoyed his wedding.”
British actresses in contention include Felicity Jones, Keira Knightley and Rosamund Pike.
- Best picture
- Best director
- Best actor
- Best actress
- Best supporting actor
- Best supporting actress
Oscars 2015: in-depth
Giant Oscar statues that are placed around the venue get a last minute spray paint before the ceremony
Julianne Moore is the clear favourite to win best actress for her role as a lecturer with early onset Alzheimer’s. “She has all but engraved her name on the gong,” observes Frost.
The supporting categories seem to be sewn up by JK Simmons, for his role as a terrifying teacher in jazz drama Whiplash, and Patricia Arquette as the mother in Boyhood.
All of them won their respective categories at the Baftas two weeks ago.
This year’s shortlists caused controversy after all 20 contenders in the main acting categories were white and there were no female nominees in the directing or writing categories.
Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said later she would “love to see” more diversity among the nominees.
Best supporting actress favourite Patricia Arquette has been feted at many pre-Oscar parties
A number of British Bafta winners will be hoping to repeat their success at the Oscars.
Among them is Daisy Jacobs, whose The Bigger Picture – about two brothers struggling to care for their elderly mother – is up for the best short animation.
And the Bafta-winning Boogaloo and Graham, about two boys and their pet chickens in 1970s Belfast is up for live action short.
The same category includes The Phone Call – in which Sally Hawkins plays a helpline call centre volunteer who counsels a mystery man played by Jim Broadbent.
While the Oscars are likely to be short on surprises, the organisers will hope the ceremony throws up some sparkling TV moments – such as last year’s Oscar “selfie” – to entertain a global audience of several hundred million.
“We like a surprise,” says Frost. “I always look back to the day when Brokeback Mountain got beaten. Director Ang Lee was virtually walking up to the stage when they shouted Crash.
“There’d be no point in having these awards if that couldn’t happen.”
While the Oscar losers won’t get a golden statue, they won’t do too badly.
Gift bags for this year’s main contenders are valued at more than $125,000, and include a three-night stay in Tuscany, a luxury train ride through the Canadian Rockies, a year’s luxury car rental and a custom silver necklace inscribed with the latitude and longitude coordinates of the Dolby Theatre.