Hollywood is preparing for its Oscars close-up, as Tinseltown’s annual awards season comes to its climax with two films expected to face off for the top prize.

Dark comedy Birdman is vying with coming-of-age drama Boyhood for best picture at the Oscars, although a late surge by American Sniper could yet cause an upset.

Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette and Britain’s Eddie Redmayne are among those widely tipped to take home acting prizes during the show, hosted by song-and-dance man Neil Patrick Harris.

On the eve of the Oscars, Birdman got a new boost on Saturday, taking best film at the Independent Spirit awards as well as best actor for Michael Keaton, while Boyhood took best director for Richard Linklater.

But the race for the biggest prize of the night Sunday remains too close to call, with less than 24 hours to go.

Birdman, a fanciful yet dark tale of a washed-up superhero actor battling to revive his career on Broadway, has swept a string of prizes ahead of the Oscars including top prizes from the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America.

But Linklater’s Boyhood – which was made over the course of 12 years with the same actors ageing with their characters – scooped up the biggest awards at last month’s Golden Globes, as well as Britain’s BAFTAs.

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Some have even suggested that Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper could sneak up on the inside as a dark horse, boosted by the film’s box office success as the highest-grossing war movie of all time.

Veteran star Moore is almost universally expected to win best actress for playing a linguistics professor suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease in Still Alice.

Arquette is the favourite for best supporting actress as the single mother raising two kids in Boyhood, while JK Simmons is widely expected to win best supporting actor honours for jazz drama Whiplash.

The best actor race is still seen as up for grabs – a two-man contest between Redmayne – as astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything – and Birdman star Michael Keaton.

For best director, the frontrunners are Linklater and Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the creative force behind Birdman.

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The show, which starts at 0130 GMT on Monday, will be preceded by the traditional red carpet parade, featuring a bevy of stars kitted out in their formal finest.

AAP

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