Hollywood awards season kicks off with Golden Globes

Hollywood's biggest stars turn out on Sunday for the Golden Globes, which kick off the industry's awards season this year with a show that promises suspense and cheeky humor.

While their record in predicting Oscars glory has been hit-and-miss, many see the Globes as a pretty strong indicator of films and actors destined for an Academy Award on February 28.

"It's an uncanny crystal ball," said Tom O'Neil, founder of awards tracker GoldDerby.com. "The Globes historically has predicted 75 percent of the Oscars.

"So it's considered your audition for the Oscar." Returning to host what is described as Hollywood's biggest party of the year will be British comedian Ricky Gervais, who has used previous appearances on the show to dish out politically-incorrect and stinging jokes.

The field is wide open this year as to who will walk away with a Golden Globe, awarded by members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association at a gala dinner in Beverly Hills.

"Some years there are movies like 'Titanic' that just seem to have a momentum and everybody seems to like them," said Timothy Gray, awards editor for trade magazine Variety. "But this year there is genuine suspense." Leading the pack of films vying for top honors is "Spotlight," which tells the story of Boston Globe journalists who uncovered sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Pundits see the movie as frontrunner for best drama - but no shoo-in, as it faces competition from "Carol," a lesbian romance starring Cate Blanchett as a housewife who falls for a store clerk played by Rooney Mara.

Other top contending dramas are the epic survival thriller "The Revenant" starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the harrowing kidnap tale "Room" and "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." In the race for best actor in a drama, DiCaprio appears well ahead for his strong performance as legendary 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 O'Neil. "All 17 GoldDerby experts have him unanimously out front to win." Also nominated for best actor in a drama are Bryan Cranston who plays 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 Mara for "Carol," Brie Larson for "Room," and Alicia Vikander who plays alongside Redmayne in "The Danish Girl." On the television front, two series nominated for a Golden Globe are creating a buzz - "Mr Robot," about a computer programmer and vigilante hacker, and "Narcos," Netflix's take on the infamous Medellin drug cartel.

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 poking fun at everyone from Mel Gibson to Angelina Jolie, as well as the Hollywood Foreign Press, and this year he is not expected to hold back.

Gervais has made his apologies in advance for what he will say.

"Because I can see the future, I'd like to apologize now for the things I said at next week's Golden Globes," he tweeted on January 1.

But O'Neil said Gervais' edgy humor was more likely than not to go down well with an audience mellowed by flowing champagne.

"He's a brilliant host because he's an anarchist who loves to rock the house," O'Neil said. "This is Hollywood's biggest party of the year and Ricky is perfectly cast as a wild card upon the stage.