Hollywood begins tense Oscar countdown
Wednesday, 23 January 2008

LOS ANGELES (AFP)

Nominees for the 80th Academy Awards were to be unveiled early Tuesday, with Hollywood on tenterhooks as experts predicted a wide open battle for the Oscars' best picture prize.

The nominations for this year's awards were to be revealed at 5:38 am (1338 GMT) at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose Beverly Hills headquarters went into lockdown on Monday in anticipation of the event.

Observers say a crop of dark and offbeat films have made this year's battle one of the hardest to call in years.

The gold statuettes will be handed out on February 24. The early front-runner for the coveted best picture prize is Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men," a bleak thriller about the murderous forces unleashed when a drug deal on the US-Mexico border goes wrong. However the film, which has won a string of critics' prizes during awards season, was overlooked for the best picture prize at the Golden Globes on January 13, with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association instead choosing to honor "Atonement," a period drama set in wartime Britain and France.

Tom O'Neil, of Los Angeles Times awards blog theenvelope.com, said "No Country for Old Men," the powerful drama "There Will Be Blood" and low-budget comedy "Juno" were likely to be among the five best picture nominees. But less certain was the identity of the other two nominees with "Atonement," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "American Gangster," "Into the Wild," "Michael Clayton," and "Sweeney Todd" all possible contenders. There was a slim chance that the Golden Globes' two best picture winners, "Atonement" and Tim Burton's musical "Sweeney Todd" with Johnny Depp in the title role, may both fail to get nominated.

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