Los Angeles - Hollywood's awards season kicks into high gear on Sunday at the Golden Globes, with a movie about reporters investigating abuse in the Catholic Church and Leonardo DiCaprio touted as likely winners.
The show, the industry's biggest party of the year, is seen as a good indicator of films and actors destined for Oscars glory on February 28.
This year the show promises not to disappoint as British comedian Ricky Gervais returns to dish out his biting jokes, sparing none of the stars guzzling champagne at the gala, or even members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association which picks the Globe winners.
Pundits said that while predictions indicate that "Spotlight" - a movie about the Boston Globe journalists who uncovered sexual abuse in the Catholic Church - will win for best drama, the race was really up in the air.
"I thing 'Spotlight' is going to win partly because it's a celebration of journalism and there is some 90 journalists who are voting on this," said Timothy Gray, awards editor for trade magazine Variety.
"But I wouldn't bet my money on it because there are other possibilities," he said. "This year there is genuine suspense." Other films vying for top honors include the lesbian romance "Carol" starring Cate Blanchett, epic survival thriller "The Revenant" with Leonardo DiCaprio, the harrowing kidnap tale "Room," and the summer blockbuster "Mad Max: Fury Road." The frontrunner for best comedy is "The Big Short," based on a book about the financial crisis of 2007-2008.
Also running in that category are the dramedy "Joy," space blockbuster "The Martian," zany caper "Spy," and Amy Schumer's breakout film "Trainwreck." DiCaprio appears well ahead in the race for best actor in a drama for his strong performance as fur trapper Hugh Glass in "The Revenant." Critics are widely predicting the 41-year-old actor will take home his first Oscar for the role.
"There is a feeling that it's his year," said Tom O'Neil, founder of awards tracker GoldDerby.com. "All 17 GoldDerby experts have him unanimously out front to win." Also nominated for best actor in a drama are Bryan Cranston as a blacklisted 1940s screenwriter in "Trumbo," Eddie Redmayne for the transgender tale "The Danish Girl," and Will Smith for the hard-hitting sports drama "Concussion." For best actress in a drama the nominees are Blanchett and her co-star Rooney Mara in "Carol," Brie Larson for "Room," and Alicia Vikander who plays alongside Redmayne in "The Danish Girl." Unlike the Oscars, the Golden Globes also honors television shows, and two nominated series are creating a buzz: "Mr Robot," about a computer programmer and vigilante hacker, and "Narcos," Netflix's take on the infamous Medellin drug cartel.
Other nominated TV series include Netflix's women's prison show "Orange is the New Black," HBO's fantasy epic "Game of Thrones," and the transgender comedy "Transparent." In the best foreign movie category, four European films and one from Latin American are vying for an award, including Hungarian Holocaust drama "Son of Saul," and "Mustang," a French production about the life of subjugation of five Turkish sisters.
Movies aside, all eyes will be on Gervais, who raised eyebrows for his off-color jokes when he hosted the show for three years starting in 2010.
The caustic comedian, who takes over from co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, comes with a reputation of fearlessly poking fun at A-listers from Mel Gibson to Angelina Jolie and even the Hollywood Foreign Press. No one expects him to hold back this year.
Gervais has apologized in advance for what he will say, and has been asking fans on his Twitter account for advice on who his victims should be this year.
"I think he is going to touch on politics and show business," Gray said. "But people kind of enjoy him because he is so edgy and naughty."