Hollywood A-listers set for Golden Globes

Los Angeles - Awards season kicks into high gear on Sunday with the Golden Globes, as Hollywood's biggest stars turn out for a champagne-filled event honoring the best in film and television.

The glittering gala in Beverly Hills is seen as a good indicator of the films and actors that will vie for Oscars glory on February 28 -- and is second only to the Academy Awards in terms of Tinseltown buzz.

This year, the show promises not to disappoint as British comedian Ricky Gervais returns to dish out his brand of biting humour, after past hosting gigs ended with criticism about the sharp digs he took at the stars and the industry.

Pundits said that while "Spotlight" -- a movie about the Boston Globe journalists who uncovered sexual abuse in the Catholic Church -- has been tapped by some to win for best drama film, the race was really up in the air.

"I think 'Spotlight' is going to win partly because it's a celebration of journalism and there are 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 or musical film is "The Big Short," based on a book about the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

Also vying 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 that the 41-year-old actor will eventually 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," Michael Fassbender for his work in "Steve Jobs," 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 "Carol" co-star Rooney Mara, Brie Larson for "Room," Saoirse Ronan for "Brooklyn" and Alicia Vikander for "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 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 the prize, including Hungarian Holocaust drama "Son of Saul," and "Mustang," a French production about the life of subjugation of five Turkish sisters.

Awards aside, all eyes will be on Gervais, who raised eyebrows for his off-colour 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 Association, which hands out the awards.

No one expects him to hold back this year.

Bets are that Sean Penn's stunning revelation about his secret interview with Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman three months before his recapture on Friday will provide some great fodder for Gervais.

It was unclear whether Penn would attend the party.