Hollywood prepares for Oscars night
The final countdown to this year's Oscars has begun, just hours before Hollywood's finest arrive on the red carpet.
The glittering ceremony could see Meryl Streep join an elite acting club with a third Academy Award, Jean Dujardin could become the first Frenchman to win best actor, and Christopher Plummer could become the oldest acting winner ever at 82.
And The Artist is favoured to become the only silent movie to take the best-picture prize since the first Oscar ceremony 83 years ago.
Along with Streep, Hollywood's big night has plenty of other returning stars. Past Oscar winners and nominees George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Glenn Close, Michelle Williams and Nick Nolte are also in the running again.
The show also has a returning favourite as ringmaster. After an eight-year absence, Billy Crystal is back for his ninth time as host.
Because of a change in voting rules, the Oscars feature nine best-picture nominees for the first time, instead of the 10 they had the last two years.
Competing against The Artist for the top honour are Clooney's family drama The Descendants; the Deep South tale The Help, featuring best-actress nominee Viola Davis and supporting-actress favourite Octavia Spencer; and the Paris adventure Hugo, from director Martin Scorsese.
Also in the line-up: the romantic fantasy Midnight In Paris, from writer-director Woody Allen; Pitt's baseball tale Moneyball and his family saga The Tree Of Life; the First World War epic War Horse, directed by Steven Spielberg; and Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock's September 11 story Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Hugo leads with 11 nominations in total, with The Artist right behind with 10.
Spencer is a virtual lock for supporting actress, having dominated earlier film honours for her breakout role in The Help as a brash maid in 1960s Mississippi. The same holds true for Plummer, the front-runner for supporting actor for his role as an elderly widower who comes out as gay in Beginners.
The lead-acting categories are where the drama lies. Best actress shapes up as a two-woman race between Davis as a courageous maid leading an effort to reveal the hardships of black housekeepers' lives in The Help and Streep as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.