Space drama Gravity is expected to scoop multiple awards at Sunday’s ceremony in Los Angeles.
The 3D film is likely to dominate the technical categories, with Alfonso Cuaron tipped for best director.
However, Oscar watchers have predicted Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave to win best picture.
The 86th Academy Awards, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, take place tonight at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.
Outside the venue, a section of Hollywood Boulevard has been sealed off and the red carpet is covered over to protect it from an unusual spell of wet weather.
The final round of voting by the Academy’s 6,028 members ended on Tuesday.
Many of the nominees have been attending a flurry of pre-Oscar events and screenings in and around Los Angeles.
In what is considered to be the strongest field for many years there are nine contenders for best picture.
Gravity and David O. Russell’s crime caper American Hustle lead with 10 nominations each. 12 Years a Slave has nine.
According to Hollywood Reporter, while the preferential ballot system could boost the prospects of American Hustle and Gravity, 12 Years a Slave felt more “important” than 3D science-fiction.
12 Years a Slave‘s nine nominations include best director for Steve McQueen.
The historical drama, about a free black man in New York kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana, is in a strong position, having already won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.
Its stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o have been nominated in the best actor, supporting actor and supporting actress categories.
American Hustle has nods in all four acting categories for its stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
David O. Russell pulled off the same feat with Silver Linings Playbook last year. Jennifr Lawrence went on to win best actress.
British film Philomena, based on the true story of an Irish woman trying to find the son she was forced to give up for adoption, is up for four awards, including best picture and best actress for Judi Dench.
Gravity eyes prizes as Oscars countdown begins
Captain Phillips, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club and Her are also among the nine best picture nominees.
There are several clear favorites in the major acting categories.
Cate Blanchett, who plays a fallen New York socialite in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, has been the runaway favorite for best actress for months.
But she faces strong competition from Judi Dench, American Hustle‘s Amy Adams, Gravity‘s Sandra Bullock, and Meryl Streep – who has her 18th Oscar nomination – for August: Osage County.
Having both missed out on BAFTA nominations, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto – from AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club – are favorites for best actor and supporting actor respectively.
The tightest race seems to be for best supporting actress, where 12 Years A Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o – making her movie debut – is up against Jennifer Lawrence who won a BAFTA for her American Hustle role.
Also in the running are Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine, Julia Roberts for August: Osage County and June Squibb for Nebraska.
“Usually a couple of the big awards are quite close but this year, there is just the one with best supporting actress looking set to go down to the wire,” said William Hill spokesman Joe Crilly.
In the best director category, David O. Russell faces competition from Steve McQueen, Alfonso Cuaron, Nebraska‘s Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street.
Amid all the speculation, the ceremony does promise some certainties.
On the musical front, all four contenders for best original song will perform. U2 will play Ordinary Love, which they wrote for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Pharrell Williams will sing Happy from Despicable Me 2, Idina Menzel will sing Let it Go from the animated film Frozen, and Karen O will perform The Moon Song, from the Spike Jonze film Her.
Pink and Bette Midler are also to perform.
This year’s ceremony will celebrate movie heroes and a special section will mark the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.
Ellen DeGeneres is back for a second stint as host. She hosted the 79th Academy Awards in 2007, watched by a TV audience of 39.9 million.
Before the ceremony, Ellen DeGeneres tweeted: “I think we can all agree; if Meryl Streep doesn’t win this year, her career is in real trouble.”
Gravity movie leads this year’s BAFTAs, scoring 11 nominations including best film and best British film.
Sandra Bullock is up for best actress, while Alfonso Cuaron is nominated for best director.
Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave had 10 nods, with five in the main categories including best film, best director and best actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o also landed supporting nominations.
American Hustle equaled 12 Years a Slave‘s tally, with nominations in all the acting categories for its stars Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
The 1970s drama, about two con artists who get entangled with the FBI, is also up for best film, with David O. Russell nominated for best director and original screenplay.
Chiwetel Ejiofor will compete for his award against Christian Bale, Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips, Bruce Dern for Nebraska and Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street.
The best actress category will see Sandra Bullock challenge Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine, Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks and Judi Dench for Philomena.
The nominations saw Judi Dench set a BAFTA record, with her 15th acting nomination.
That puts her one ahead of Meryl Streep, who was overlooked in the best actress category for August: Osage County.
BAFTA 2014 winners will be announced at a ceremony at London’s Royal Opera House on February 16
Other movies competing for best film include Captain Phillips and Philomena, while the latter is also nominated for best British film alongside Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Saving Mr. Banks, The Selfish Giant and Rush.
Gravity, Saving Mr. Banks and Rush all qualified for the British film category because they were either filmed in the UK, utilized British effects companies or employed other British talent, from writers to producers.
The rules are set out by the BFI’s cultural test, which determines which films are eligible for UK tax relief.
The best director category mirrored that of the Directors Guild of America – which announced its film nominations on Tuesday. Both bodies shortlisted Steve McQueen, Alfonso Cuaron and David O. Russell alongside Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips and Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street.
Notable snubs in the acting categories included Robert Redford for sea drama All is Lost and Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club – both of whom have been tipped for Oscar consideration this year.
Winners will be announced at a ceremony at London’s Royal Opera House on February 16.
Space thriller Gravity has held on to the top of the US and Canadian box office for a third week.
Sandra Bullock’s 3D thriller, co-starring George Clooney, took $31 million according to figures from Rentrak.
Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, stayed in second place, taking $17.3 million in its second week.
WikiLeaks drama The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange, had 2013’s worst debut weekend so far, taking just $1.7 million.
Julian Assange, who founded whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, had claimed Disney’s film would be a failure. Last week, an email he wrote to Cumberbatch urging him not to take part in the project was released online.
Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts stranded in space, has now made more than $170 million in three weeks.
IMAX screenings have proved particularly popular because of the film’s groundbreaking visuals, accounting for $38 million in ticket sales, with 82% of audiences opting for 3D showings.
Warner Brothers’ Jeffrey Goldstein has attributed the film’s success to “phenomenal word of mouth”.
Gravity has held on to the top of the US and Canadian box office for a third week
Paul Greengrass’s true story-based Somali pirate drama Captain Philips also held off newcomer Carrie. The horror remake, starring Kick-Ass actress Chloe Grace Moretz, took third place, with $17 million.
The original 1976 film, based on Stephen King’s novel, saw Oscar nominations for actresses Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie.
Family favorite, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, was in fourth after taking $10.1 million in its fourth week.
Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new action film Escape Plan rounded off the top five with $9.8 million.
In a limited release of just 19 cinemas, Steve McQueen’s Oscar-tipped slavery epic 12 Years a Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, opened with a promising $960,000.
North American box office Top 5:
1. Gravity – $31 million
2. Captain Phillips – $17.3 million
3. Carrie – $17 million
4. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs – $10.1 million
George Clooney and Sandra Bullock’s new movie Gravity has shot straight to the top of the US box office in its opening weekend.
According to early estimates, Gravity took $55.55 million over the weekend, making it the biggest October opening since records began.
George Clooney and Sandra Bullock’s new movie Gravity has shot straight to the top of the US box office in its opening weekend
The figure also ensured it was the biggest opening for a film starring Sandra Bullock or George Clooney.
Gravity, set almost entirely in space, is directed by Alfonso Cuaron.
George Clooney and Sandra Bullock play an astronaut and a medical engineer who work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
Last week’s number one, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, dropped into second slot with $21.5 million.
Based on a children’s book, the first film – Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs – was a breakout hit for Sony Animation in 2009.
The sequel is an original story, in which inventor Flint Lockwood must save the day after one of his inventions malfunctions, creating food-animal creatures, or animals made of food, that overtake the region of Swallow Falls.
Runner Runner, starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, opened in third place taking just $7.6 million.
The crime thriller follows Justin Timberlake as a graduate student who goes to Costa Rica to confront an online gambling tycoon played by Ben Affleck, who swindles him.
Former number one Prisoners, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman, slipped from second place to fourth.
Formula One movie Rush, which depicts the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, took fifth spot.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon, was next in sixth place.
Sci-fi film Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, is to open the 2013 Venice Film Festival in August.
The 3D movie, directed by Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, sees George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as astronauts on an ill-fated mission.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Y tu mama tambien won two awards at the festival in 2001 – best scenario and best young male talent for actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.
The gala on the Venice Lido runs from 28 August to 7 September.
Sci-fi film Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, is to open the 2013 Venice Film Festival in August
Last Tango in Paris director Bernardo Bertolucci – whose debut film, The Grim Reaper, showed at the festival in 1962 – will lead the jury for this year’s Golden Lion for best film.
US director William Friedkin, best known for his films The French Connection and The Exorcist, will also receive a lifetime achievement award.
He described the festival as his “spiritual home”, adding he would accept the honorary prize “with gratitude and love”.
Alfonso Cuaron’s film features George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as astronauts attempting to return to Earth after debris crashes into their space shuttle, leaving them drifting alone in orbit.
The rest of the festival line-up is yet to be announced, but films being tipped to be screened include Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien and Twelve Years a Slave, the latest film from British director Steve McQueen starring Brad Pitt, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender.