It's easy to tell when the Oscars are just around the corner: the films being released suddenly get worthier, actresses get skinnier and everyone you meet wants to reel off their predictions or enlist you in their sweep. And while the ceremony is principally an opportunity for that most self-promoting of industries to pat itself on the back rather than to reward innovation, it remains one of the most important dates in the film calendar.
This year's Oscars, the 79th, will be held at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre and will be shown live and in full on TVB Pearl tomorrow morning. Coverage begins at 8am with the usual red-carpet build-up before the ceremony begins in earnest at 9.30am; the ceremony will be repeated in its entirety from 8.30pm for those deprived of a movie morning by work.
For one of the first times in recent memory, the recipients of the four acting gongs look to be a foregone conclusion. Having cleaned up at every other awards show this year, it would be a major upset if Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) and Helen Mirren (left; The Queen) did not waltz off with the main awards, while the same goes for Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson (both Dreamgirls) in the supporting categories - although Mark Wahlberg (The Departed) could be in with a shout of pipping Murphy.
The best director field has a slight sense of deja vu about it, with the overwhelming feeling being that this must be the year Martin Scorsese (The Departed) gets his long overdue golden statue. Then again, such was the consensus in 2002 and 2004, when the great man went home empty-handed. His main rival this year is Mexican maestro Alejandro Gonzalez I?arritu (Babel), while the pair's respective films are also the frontrunners in the best picture field. While Babel may be deemed more Oscar-worthy in the latter category, surely the combined feel-good factor of an old-fashioned cop drama and arguably the US' greatest living director should be enough to persuade the Academy to give Scorsese his due - even if they are 26 years too late.