Hollywood holds breath as Oscars loom

Hollywood is bracing for the climax of its annual awards season this weekend, with British drama "The King's Speech" and Facebook film "The Social Network" battling neck-and-neck for top Oscars glory.

Tinsel Town's glittering stars will descend on the red carpet Sunday for the 83rd Academy Awards, the ultimate accolade for filmmakers and performers in the multi-billion-dollar movie industry.

Other films in the running for some of the top gongs include hi-tech blockbuster "Inception," western remake "True Grit" and sexually-charged ballet thriller "Black Swan."

British actor Colin Firth, who plays a stammering George VI in "The King's Speech," is frontrunner to win best actor Oscar, while a pregnant Natalie Portman is tipped to take best actress.

In downtown Hollywood, frantic final preparations are underway, as the countdown ticks toward the final hours before the show.

Workers have already sealed off the stretch of Hollywood Boulevard outside the Kodak Theater, where the show - watched live by hundreds of millions around the world - gets underway at 5:00 pm Sunday (0100 GMT Monday).

Fashion fiends can tune in an hour or two earlier than that, to watch the red carpet parade as A-listers reveal what gowns and suits they've chosen for Hollywood's biggest night.

Actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway will host the show, while organizers this week released more details of who will present awards, the latest including Helen Mirren, Javier Bardem, Mila Kunis and Amy Adams.

The nearly 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finished voting Tuesday, but the results will only be announced at the show.

"The King's Speech" has the most nominations with nods in 12 categories, followed by "True Grit" with 10 and eight each for "The Social Network" and "Inception."

For best actor, Firth is the clear favorite on a shortlist that also includes Spain's Javier Bardem in "Biutiful," veteran Jeff Bridges in "True Grit," Jesse Eisenberg in "The Social Network" and Franco in "127 Hours," about a hiker forced to amputate his own arm.

Portman leads the pack for the best actress for a disturbing performance as a ballerina on the edge of going mad, although she faces stiff competition from Nicole Kidman in "Rabbit Hole" and Annette Bening in "The Kids Are All Right."

Like Firth, Portman has taken a string of awards in the run-up to the Oscars, including the Golden Globe for best actress, as well as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and Britain's BAFTA prize in the same category.

The "King's Speech," also starring Helena Bonham Carter as the Duchess of York and Australian Geoffrey Rush as the king's voice coach, started the awards season with a disappointment, winning only one Golden Globe despite having seven nominations.

"The Social Network," about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's creation of the game-changing website, took top honors at the Globes with four wins at Hollywood's first major pre-Oscars show last month.

But the British movie then romped away in a series of US awards, including the Screen Actors' Guild and the Directors Guild of America prizes here.

Then, "The King's Speech" won best film at Britain's BAFTAs in London this month, along with yet another best actor win for Firth, as it continued its regal progress through the awards season.

The best foreign film contest is between Mexico's "Biutiful" - with Bardem also up for best actor - "Dogtooth" from Greece, Denmark's "In a Better World," "Incendies" from Canada and Algeria's "Outside the Law."

On the eve of the Oscars, organizers announced Thursday that they had extended a broadcast deal with ABC for a further six years on the current contract, taking it through 2020.

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