Hollywood prepares for its Oscars close-up

Hollywood prepares for its Oscars close-up
The cast of "Birdman" (L-R) Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton and Michael Keaton pose backstage with their award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the 21st annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California January 25, 2015.

LOS ANGELES - Hollywood is preparing for its Oscars close-up Sunday, as Tinseltown's annual awards season comes to its climax with two films expected to face off for the top prize.

Dark comedy "Birdman" is vying with coming-of-age drama "Boyhood" for best picture at the Oscars, although a late surge by "American Sniper" could yet cause an upset.

Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette and Britain's Eddie Redmayne are among those widely tipped to take home acting prizes during the show, hosted by song-and-dance man Neil Patrick Harris.

On the eve of the Oscars, "Birdman" got a new boost Saturday, taking best film at the Independent Spirit awards as well as best actor for Michael Keaton, while "Boyhood" took best director for Richard Linklater.

But the race for the biggest prize of the night Sunday remains too close to call, with less than 24 hours to go.

"Birdman," a fanciful yet dark tale of a washed-up superhero actor battling to revive his career on Broadway, has swept a string of prizes ahead of the Oscars including top prizes from the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America.

But Linklater's "Boyhood" - which was made over the course of 12 years with the same actors aging with their characters - scooped up the biggest awards at last month's Golden Globes, as well as Britain's BAFTAs.

Some have even suggested that Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper" could sneak up on the inside as a dark horse, boosted by the film's box office success as the highest-grossing war movie of all time.

Ballots cast

When nominations were announced last month, "Birdman" shared the most nods with Wes Anderson's stylish crime caper "The Grand Budapest Hotel," at nine each, followed by World War II thriller "The Imitation Game" with eight. "Boyhood" followed with six.

That fired the starting gun on the frenzied final weeks of frantic schmoozing and self-publicizing that defines Hollywood's awards season, which gains momentum until the star-studded Oscars night.

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