The Oscar nominations will Monday reveal which stars and movies have a shot at Hollywood's ultimate prize, as the industry nervously awaits the number of women and minorities selected.
The pre-dawn Academy Award announcement caps months of ceaseless campaigning by A-listers and studios, with only the chosen few progressing to next month's show-stopper.
Favorites for best picture include Quentin Tarantino's 1960s Tinseltown homage "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood," and Sam Mendes's World War I odyssey "1917." Both won major honors at the recent Golden Globes.
Martin Scorsese's crime epic "The Irishman" and South Korean class satire "Parasite" are also expected to feature. Up to 10 films can be nominated for the top prize.
Much of the focus so far this award season has been on the lack of women and ethnic minority filmmakers honored.
Neither the Globes nor the influential Directors Guild Awards included any female-helmed films in their top categories, with Greta Gerwig's acclaimed "Little Women" adaptation notably absent.
Controversy over those omissions, in an industry criticized for its lack of diversity, was fueled at last week's Bafta nominations, which were also condemned for overlooking ethnic minorities.
One Academy voter who asked not to be named said he was "anticipating that it's likely going to be very controversial" again Monday because "a lot of male directors" will be nominated.
"Unfortunately there are just five nominees" for best director in an "incredibly strong year," he told AFP, pointing to the revered track records of Scorsese, Tarantino and Mendes.
The Academy "want to choose the best but they also want to be sensitive to women and minorities," said Chris Beachum, of award tracking website Gold Derby.
Non-white stars such as Lupita Nyong'o, Cynthia Erivo and Awkwafina could feature alongside best actress frontrunners Renee Zellweger and Charlize Theron, he predicted, while Eddie Murphy is in the running for best actor.
"Greta (Gerwig) certainly has a shot at becoming the first woman to get in for (best) director twice," Beachum added, referring to her nomination for 2017's "Lady Bird."
- Competitive best actor field-
Voting for Oscar nominees ended last Tuesday, two days after the Golden Globes, meaning success there could have provided a late bump for borderline candidates.
Taron Egerton, who plays Elton John in "Rocketman," faces a tough challenge to crack into a competitive best actor field expected to feature the likes of Joaquin Phoenix ("Joker.")
But he may be aided by his Globes success, Beachum said.
Renee Zellweger, who won best actress at the Globe, is widely seen as a shoo-in for the Oscars shortlist, thanks to her acclaimed turn as showbiz legend Judy Garland in "Judy."
Awards pundits will also be checking to see how the best picture frontrunners fare in other Oscars nominations categories.
"1917" has relative unknowns in its main roles, meaning acting nods would be a strong indicator of overall success, said Beachum.
An editing nomination for the film, shot to appear as it were almost one continuous shot, would also speak volumes, he added.
- 'Theatrical experience' -
Despite its disappointment at the Globes, where it won just one movie award, Netflix still has more contenders than any other studio -- and is likely to bag plenty of nominations.
"They'll win some Oscars," said Beachum. "Every year that they've been in the Oscar race they've improved on nominations and wins."
As well as "Irishman," the small-screen streaming giant should grab nods for divorce drama "Marriage Story," Vatican-set "The Two Popes" and Murphy's blaxploitation biopic "Dolemite Is My Name."
But one Academy voter warned that "some members will, as filmmakers, want to preserve the theatrical experience" by choosing films from traditional studios which have long, exclusive runs in movie theaters.
Some 9,000 Academy members vote for the Oscars.
In the round of voting just closed, members were asked to rank their top choices only for best picture, and for the specific Academy branch to which they belong.
Voting for winners -- in which members can vote in every category -- begins January 30, closing five days later.
The Oscars will be handed out in Hollywood on February 9.