HOLLYWOOD, United States - Hollywood is holding its breath ahead of the Oscars on Sunday, with dark comedy "Birdman" and coming-of-age drama "Boyhood" neck-and-neck in the awards season home stretch.
Tinseltown's finest will be on the edge of their seats at the Dolby Theatre, waiting to finally learn who will win a coveted golden statuette - and who will walk away empty-handed.
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.
But the race for the biggest prize of the night, the best picture Oscar, remains too close to call with only a couple of days 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 Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" - which was made over 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.
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.
Campaigning can no longer have any impact on the results, as the 6,124 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finished casting their ballots on Tuesday.
While the best picture race is on a knife-edge, several of the other key categories are seen as much easier to predict.
Veteran star Moore is almost universally expected to win best actress for playing a linguistics professor suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's Disease in "Still Alice." Arquette is the favourite for best supporting actress as the single mother raising two kids in "Boyhood," while J.K. Simmons is widely expected to win best supporting actor honors for jazz drama "Whiplash." The best actor race is still seen as up for grabs - a two-man contest between Redmayne - as astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything" - and "Birdman" star Michael Keaton.
Best picture/director split?
For best director, the frontrunners are Linklater and Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the creative force behind "Birdman." This has led to speculation that the best picture and best director prizes could be shared, as they were last year when Mexican Alfonso Cuaron won best director for "Gravity," while the best picture Oscar went to "12 Years A Slave." "That's a possibility, that Inarritu wins best director and 'Boyhood' best picture, or vice versa," said Vincent Brook, a lecturer at the UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television.
A star-studded cast of presenters will hand out the prizes at Sunday's show, including Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Kidman, Eddie Murphy, Liam Neeson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey.
Harris will have the tough task of following last year's widely-praised mistress of ceremonies, Ellen DeGeneres.
But the 41-year-old best known for TV show "How I Met Your Mother" should be up to it, having won four Emmys for hosting Broadway's Tonys awards.
The show, which starts at 5:30 pm (0130 GMT Monday), will be preceded by the traditional red carpet parade, featuring a bevy of stars kitted out in their formal finest.
Security will be tight: on Thursday, a bomb scare briefly closed down the nearby Hollywood and Highland intersection, at the end of a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard that was sealed off for the week for the show.
One unwelcome guest could be rain - forecasts say there is a 60 per cent chance of what is a rare LA phenomenon. Last year, a last-minute freak storm forced organizers to scramble to make sure it didn't rain on the party.
They will be hoping the clouds hold off for as long as possible on Sunday.