Oscars best picture suspense crowns tumultuous Hollywood year

An Oscar statue is seen outside the Dolby Theatre during preparations for the Oscars in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. March 3, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (Reuters)

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The red carpet has been rolled out and the champagne is on ice for an Oscars ceremony on Sunday filled with suspense over the movie industry's biggest prize — and whether Hollywood's campaign against sexual harassment will steal the spotlight.

Unlike previous years, the best picture contest this time is anyone's guess.

Fox Searchlight fantasy romance "The Shape of Water" with a leading 13 nominations, Fox Searchlight dark comedy "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," and Universal Pictures racial satire "Get Out" all have a fighting chance, awards pundits say.

"I think 'Get Out' seems to have the momentum right now," said Dave Karger, special correspondent for entertainment website IMDB.com.

"Three Billboards" won the top award at the Golden Globes and Britain's BAFTA, but "Get Out," a bold horror movie that became a talking point around modern day race relations in America, won best picture at Saturday's independent Spirit Awards.

Hollywood also has other issues on its mind, including the sexual misconduct scandal that has brought down dozens of once powerful men, and lingering questions over racial and gender fairness in the movie business.

The Time's Up campaign against sexual harassment in the workplace, spearheaded by celebrities including Reese Witherspoon and Ava DuVernay, will be recognized in some form in Sunday's ceremony, organizers say.

History could be made on Sunday.

"Get Out" director and writer Jordan Peele could be the first black man in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 90-year history to win a directing Oscar.

"Lady Bird" director Greta Gerwig could become only the second female to take home that prize when the decision of the 8,000 Academy members is announced.

"Every year, the discussion around the awards is less and less who will win, but how many women are nominated, or how many blacks and Asians lost," said Tom O'Neil, founder of awards website GoldDerby.com.

Host Jimmy Kimmel has the task of navigating the wider political themes with the celebrations. He is also expected to turn into a running joke last year's embarrassing best picture envelope mix-up that saw musical "La La Land" being declared winner instead of "Moonlight."

No such suspense surrounds the main acting races, where Frances McDormand is heavily favored to win for her turn as an angry, grieving mother in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," and British actor Gary Oldman's performance as wartime leader Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour" is widely expected to bring his first Oscar.

In the supporting actor categories, odds are on Allison Janney for "I, Tonya," and Sam Rockwell for "Three Billboards" after they swept previous awards.

As for best picture, "anything can happen there as we have learned year after year when voters have given us upset after upset," O'Neil said.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Peter Henderson and Sandra Maler)