Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's La La Land is tipped for glory on Hollywood's biggest night - the Oscars 2017. Damien Chazelle's musical is vying for 14 awards and many of its 14 nominees are sure-fire winners, if the odds-makers are right. The film, which stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as an aspiring actress and a struggling jazz musician respectively, has charmed critics the world over and returned more than 10 times its $30 million budget so far. Gold Derby, a site that collates experts' awards predictions, 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) and Titanic. The early acclaim was met with an inevitable backlash with some reviewers bemoaning what they saw as the film's shallow message and others arguing that the leads lack the singing and dancing talent of musical icons such as Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. But others hailed it as brilliant.
"La La Land is not over-hyped. It's one of those best pictures that will by loved for centuries to come," said Gold Derby editor Tom O'Neil. "It will be the most romantic film to win best picture since Titanic and Slumdog Millionaire," he added.
- 'It's pretty exciting' -
La La Land vies for best picture honours 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 once before. I was a lot younger and I didn't fully appreciate the significance of it," said Mr 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," he said.
Emma Stone is expected to win her first Oscar 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.
Mr Gosling is expected to be comfortably behind Casey Affleck and Mr Washington in best actor category, however, languishing alongside Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) and Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic).
- 'Fanaticism and nationalism' -
The venue for the 89th Academy Awards is Hollywood's Dolby Theatre and will be hosted by late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. Oscar 2017 award ceremony begins from 7 am (8:30 pm EST).
It is the highlight of Hollywood calendar, and wraps up two months of Hollywood's award ceremonies.
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 organized 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.
- Political activism -
Moonlight picked up best film and director honours as well as four other statuettes at Saturday's Spirit Awards, which recognize achievements in independent filmmaking. Director Barry Jenkins and many cast members wore pins symbolizing 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 Mr Washington and his co-star Viola Davis are both old hands, with 11 nominations between them and two wins for Washington. Viola Davis is seen as a sure bet for her first Academy Award, and Mahershala Ali is the favourite in his category.