Oscars 2014: 12 Years a Slave gains momentum ahead of tonight's ceremony after cleaning up at Spirit Awards

Preparations for the Oscars have been hampered by days of torrential rain, with no guarantee that tonight will be dry - perhaps a good omen for Brit nominees

12 Years a Slave, the epic drama by British director Steve McQueen has gained further momentum ahead of tonight’s Academy Awards after sweeping up at the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday.

The movie, adapted from a 1853 memoir, won five of its seven nominations, including best feature and best director at the ceremony for independent movies made on small budgets.

Oscar frontrunners Cate Blanchett, Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong'o also took home Spirit Award trophies on the eve of the industry's biggest honors.

Usually a sunny and crisp affair, this year the Spirit Awards, held in a giant tent on California's Santa Monica beach, was filled with umbrellas as bursts of heavy rain pattered down.

Nearby, the unusual stormy weather has also hampered preparations for the Oscars, with the soaked red carpet looking more like it belongs in rainy London than sunny Hollywood - perhaps a good omen for the 20 plus British nominations.

12 Years a Slave faces stiff competition from another British affair - Gravity - in the fight for best film. But despite the two being front-runners, there are a number of other strong contenders to come out of 2013, a year widely regarded as one of the most high quality for film and performances in recent memory.

The president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, called it the best line-up “in the last decade or so.”

There is an undeniable sense of history behind 12 Years a Slave however - a film about the brutal treatment of black slaves in America, it would become the first film directed by a black person to take the top prize in the award’s 86 year history.

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