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Hollywood is ready for the biggest film night of the year - the Oscars

Mark Ralston, AFP | Workers set up an Oscars statue as preparations are made ahead of the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2019.

Hollywood’s A-listers will strike a pose on the red carpet on Sunday night ahead of the 91st Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars. The climax of a long, eventful awards season, this night looks set to yield some big surprises.

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Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white cinematic ode to his childhood, ‘Roma’, leads with 10 nominations and is a firm favorite for the coveted best picture Academy Award.

If it does win, it will be the first foreign-language film, and the first from streaming giant Netflix, to earn the honor.

As with all Netflix releases, ‘Roma’ got only a very limited theatrical release. Box office analyst Exhibitor Relations noted it would also be the first win for the movie without a reported box office, signaling "a massive sea change that, like a tsunami, cannot be stopped."

But civil rights dramedy 'Green Book' has overcome controversy to remain on the radar, and could benefit from the Academy’s complex preferential voting system to snatch the top prize.

Hot on their heels are a variety of films, from offbeat royal romp ‘The Favourite’ (also with 10 nominations), to Spike Lee’s race drama ‘BlacKkKlansman’, to crowd pleasers like superhero flick ‘Black Panther’ and musical romance ‘A Star Is Born’.

Two biopics ‘Vice’ about former US vice president Dick Cheney and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ about the band Queen round out the list of contenders for best picture.

The 7,900-odd voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had bold choices in front of them: traditional art-house Oscar bait versus big, rousing blockbusters.

“With eight best picture nominees, every film has passionate supporters, but no film has a consensus,” Tim Gray, awards editor for showbiz trade publication Variety, told AFP.

All will be revealed at the Dolby Theatre, in a ceremony beamed around the world to millions of showbiz fans, with a twist there will be no host for the first time in three decades.

The Academy opted to take the risk after comedian Kevin Hart withdrew from the gig in the face of a firestorm over past controversial tweets that were slammed as homophobic.

“They still don’t have an answer to a question that’s been around since the first TV showing in 1953: is this a presentation of every category, or is it entertainment?” Gray said. “They want it to be both.”

The entertainment factor will be high when Queen opens the show with singer Adam Lambert fronting the iconic band.

Will Glenn Close finally win?

For top acting honors, Christian Bale’s transformation into Cheney for « Vice » gave him the early lead in the Oscars race, and several statuettes.

But Rami Malek won respect from his peers and a Golden Globe, Bafta and a Screen Actors Guild award for his spellbinding turn as late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.

“In Christian Bale’s, I see an incredible actorly thing, but with Rami Malek, you see a role that just really connected with audiences,” said Variety’s chief film critic Peter Debruge.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the newcomer disrupts in this case.”

The best actress race has a clear favorite: Glenn Close, who has swept the prizes for her gripping work in ‘The Wife’ as a woman on the edge when her author husband wins the Nobel Prize in Literature.

“It’s very hard for me to accept the win-lose situation. I don’t think there’s any losers,” Close told reporters at Saturday’s Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California, where she picked up best actress.

Lady Gaga wowed fans and critics with her turn in ‘A Star is Born’, and Yalitza Aparicio’s nomination for her first acting role in ‘Roma’ earned praise. But it looks to be Close’s night.

Better ratings this year?

“It is not her strongest role, but it is an opportunity for her to really own a small film, to carry it on her shoulders, and to remind the industry that here is one of our real treasures as an actress,” Debruge said.

Mahershala Ali (‘Green Book’) and Regina King (‘If Beale Street Could Talk’) are the odds-on favorites in the supporting acting categories.

The Academy desperate to boost television ratings that have plummeted in recent years is trying to stick to a three-hour telecast, but it hit a few bumps along the way.

Controversies over its efforts to save time included plans to present a handful of awards during commercial breaks, and to feature only a few of the nominated songs. Both ideas have since been scrapped.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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