Los Angeles - The dark comedy Birdman skewered Hollywood - and Hollywood responded with nine Oscar nominations. But the indie drama Boyhood, a coming-of-age tale filmed over twelve years, could deliver an Oscars upset.
Will Birdman fly away with the Oscars? This dark comedy about a down-and-out Hollywood star seeking to resurrect his career on Broadway is nominated in nine categories, and is a top candidate for the Academy Award for best picture.
Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who co-wrote the film, let art reflect life and life reflect art by casting former Batman Michael Keaton as a half-forgotten ageing superhero actor taking his last shot at serious recognition. The 63-year-old Keaton won a Golden Globe for his career-defining performance, and is a strong contender for the best actor Oscar.
Birdman mocks Hollywood's vanity - but that could work to its advantage. Many of the 6 000 voting members of the Academy may see themselves in Keaton's weary, damaged but idealistic character: more than 75 per cent of its members are men, and their average age is 63.
Check out the trailer of the film, Birdman:
Birdman has won many awards in the run-up to the Oscars, including separate top prizes granted by the guilds of US screen actors, directors and producers.
But the competition for the Oscar, which will end Sunday (broadcast begins at 0130 GMT Monday), remains close. The neck-in-neck race is reminiscent of last year, when in a photo finish Gravity claimed the prize for best director and 12 Years a Slave was chosen as best picture.
This year, Boyhood could well steal Birdman's show. For more than 12 years, US director Richard Linklater and a small cast of actors filmed the story of a boy in Texas as he grows from child to young man, an artistic tour de force that has won widespread acclaim. Boyhood has six nominations, including best film, best director and best supporting roles for both Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, who play the boy's parents.
Boyhood was the top winner at the Golden Globes in early January, and two weeks before the Oscars it made headlines from afar. At the British BAFTA Awards, Linklater's work got the prizes for best film, best director and best supporting actress for Arquette.
The comedy Grand Budapest Hotel is regarded as something of an outsider in the race for best film. However, with nine nominations, the producers of Wes Anderson's offbeat tale of a hotel in Europe between the two World Wars hope they will not walk away empty-handed.
American Sniper, Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood's war drama about former US Navy sniper Chris Kyle, has six nominations, and is considered an outside shot for best picture.
This is the trailer for the film, Boyhood:
But if Oscars were awarded based on audience size, it would be a clear winner. American Sniper has already brought in more than 300m dollars at the US box office since mid-January, as much as rivals Birdman, Boyhood, Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash put together.
However, as independent films with small budgets, the latter movies are already winners just by being nominated.
Four independent film actors, without the star power and the glamour of the likes of Sandra Bullock or George Clooney, are also billed as the top favourites for the acting awards.
Julianne Moore, 54, has already claimed an armful of top film prizes for her role as a professor with Alzheimer's disease in Still Alice, and is considered a strong favourite for the best actress Oscar.
British actor Eddie Redmayne, 33, who plays motor neuron disease-afflicted physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, is in a close race with Keaton for the best actor Oscar. Boyhood mother Arquette, 46, and JK Simmons, 60, who plays a maniacal music teacher in Whiplash, are seen as strong favourites for the supporting actor awards.
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