HOLLYWOOD (AFP) - Hollywood will be sprinkled with stardust at the Oscars today, with dreamy nostalgic musical La La Land tipped for glory on the film industry's biggest night.
Damien Chazelle's glossy tribute to the all-singing, all-dancing Golden Age of Tinseltown's studio system is vying for 13 statuettes, and many of its 14 nominees are sure-fire winners - if the oddsmakers are right.
The film, which stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as an aspiring actress and a struggling jazz musician who fall in love in Los Angeles, has charmed critics the world over and returned more than 10 times its US$30 million ($42 million) budget.
Gold Derby, a site that collates the awards predictions of experts, had the musical as a clear favourite in 10 categories early Sunday, including best film, director, actress, score and song.
But La La Land is expected to fall short of the record 11 statuettes achieved by Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003).
La La Land will vie for best picture donors with eight films including alien thriller Arrival, family drama Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight, the coming-of-age story of an African-American in Miami.
The most intriguing race is for best actor, which for weeks looked like a lock for Manchester by the Sea star Casey Affleck until a late surge by Denzel Washington (Fences), who now has the momentum.
"It's pretty exciting. I've only been nominated once before. I was a lot younger and I didn't fully appreciate the significance of it," said Affleck, 41, who was a losing best supporting actor nominee in 2008.
"There are a lot of people in the Academy... who I admire. Denzel Washington is one of the people who taught me how to act and I've never met the man."
Stone is expected to bag her first statuette in the best actress category despite a late push from France's Isabelle Huppert, who already has a Golden Globe and Spirit Award for rape-revenge thriller Elle.
Gosling is expected to be comfortably behind Affleck and Washington in best actor, however, languishing alongside Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) and Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic).
Televised live by ABC and shown around the world, the 89th Academy Awards will be held at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre, and hosted by late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. It begins at 9.30 am Singapore time Monday.
It is the highlight of the Tinseltown calendar, and wraps up two months of glittering prize galas. Fans of the red carpet parade are hoping the rain in the forecast will stay away.
This awards season, the popping of champagne corks has been muted by the tense political situation in the United States.
President Donald Trump's controversial (and now halted) travel ban - which led Iranian director Asghar Farhadi to opt out of attending despite a nomination for The Salesman - has sparked much anger.
Oscars weekend started with an anti-Trump rally organised by the United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills, which featured speakers including Jodie Foster and Michael J Fox.
Also on Friday, directors of the five nominees for best foreign language film, including Farhadi, issued a statement condemning "the climate of fanaticism and nationalism" in the US.
Moonlight picked up best film and director honours as well as four other statuettes at Saturday's Spirit Awards, which recognise achievements in independent filmmaking.
Director Barry Jenkins and many cast members wore pins symbolising unity, while Jenkins spoke of his disappointment over the divisions in society that the election had exposed.
The awards season has a long tradition of political activism, from Marlon Brando's Oscars snub in 1973 to Meryl Streep's rousing anti-Trump speech at this year's Golden Globes - and pundits are not expecting celebrities to hold back on Sunday.
This year's nominees reflected a push by the Academy to reward diversity after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of the past two years that prompted calls for a boycott of the annual bash.
Black actors Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris are first-time nominees for Moonlight, while Fences hopefuls Washington and his co-star Viola Davis are both old hands, with 11 nominations between them and two wins for Washington.
Davis is seen as a sure bet for her first Academy Award, and Ali is the favorite in his category.
"I watch the Oscars on TV. I come up with 14, 15 of my own personal speeches for that day to come when I get there... I'm in love with the Oscars," said African-American actor Andre Royo.
For Royo, best known for his work on HBO's The Wire, Moonlightis the best film of the year."
"The director executed the story from a real sensitive and organic point of view, and looked like he didn't care what the audience would think. He just wanted to tell a story," he said.