THE ODDS are that Nicole Kidman , Daniel Day-Lewis, Martin Scorsese and the producers of Chicago will be smiling deliriously come March 23.
That is if the bookies' Oscar predictions all come true.
But favourites don't always win and the Academy Awards often throw up surprises. Denzel Washington wasn't expected to beat Russell Crowe last year, while many film buffs still wonder how, in 1954, Grace Kelly (for The Country Girl) saw off opposition from the magnificent trio of Judy Garland in A Star Is Born, Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina and Jane Wyman in Magnificent Obsession.
'The great thing about movies is that their success is so difficult to predict and that's true about the Oscars as well,' says producer Sandy Lieberson, who is the London chairman of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).
'Everyone wants to win an Oscar. They matter because everyone involved is being judged by their peers and if you win, it reaff irms that what you're doing is great.'
The Oscars are the highlight of the entertainment calendar - a billion people around the world watch the show and hundreds of thousands of pounds are bet in the UK betting on its outcome.
Speculating on who's going to win (in the past we've wavered between Saving Private Ryan or Shakespeare in Love, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or Gladiator) has become increasingly popular in recent years.
'The Oscars are one of the biggest novelty markets out there, along with the Christmas number one, whether there will be snow at Christmas and who's going to win Big
Brother,' says Sean Boyce from bookmakers, Ladbrokes. 'The odds can change all the time.
'We take into account other award ceremonies like the BAFTAs, media speculation, gossip and whether someone seems to have huge support behind them, like Daniel Day Lewis at the moment.'
This year marks the 75th Oscar ceremony and in most categories it's being seen as a two horse race. Chicago and Gangs Of New York seem inseparable for best picture, Martin Scorsese looks like he's going to be run very close by Chicago's Rob Marshall for best director, while Daniel Day-Lewis and Jack Nicholson are said to be neck and neck for best actor.
'I thought Scorsese was owed an Oscar and that this would be his year,' says Sean Boyce. 'But now I think I've got it wrong. Chicago's going to do very well and its director, Rob Marshall, could win. We've still got Scorsese as favourite, but he's clinging on at 4/5. We've shortened Marshall's odds from 5/1 to 5/4.'
The odds have also changed in the acting categories. When the nominations were announced, Jack Nicholson was immediately named favourite. Now, following the BAFTAs, Daniel Day-Lewis has crept ahead and is on at 4/5 to win.
'There's a momentum behind Daniel Day-Lewis,' says Boyce. 'We've had so much money put on him that we've had to make him favourite. But Adrien Brody could be a dark horse. His is very much an actor's performance and, at 8/1 he's a lively outsider.'
Sandy Lieberson agrees that Brody and his film The Pianist have got a chance, but says that so much money has been spent on campaigning for other films, they are more likely to come out on top.
'There's so much lobbying and advertising trying to inf luence your vote,' he says. 'A film like Gangs Of New York was so expensive to make - estimates put it at anything from $100m to $150m - and then to promote, that Miramax have gone all out to win an Oscar for it, either for best picture or for Scorsese.'
Nicole Kidman, he contends, has also gone out of her way to win everyone over to her for best actress: 'It seems to have worked. She's one of the most organised of people and highly motivated to win anything.
'She knows how to marshal it all into a great marketing campaign and is getting great publicity.'
But Lieberson - who won't reveal how he is going to cast his own Oscar vote - says that lobbying can only work to a certain level.
'If you don't like an actor you won't vote for him,' he says simply. And the word is that simple likes and dislikes could work against Catherine Zeta-Jones and in favour of people like Renée Zellwegger and three times Oscar winner Jack Nicholson.
'Jack has got a really good shot at winning,' says Lieberson. 'He's popular and really outstanding in About Schmidt. This is one of his greatest performances, although it may be a problem that the film itself is not that popular.'
Lieberson has been to the Oscars numerous times. 'It's your ultimate dream,' he says. 'It doesn't get any better than going to one of the most glamorous events in the world, seeing every celebrity you'd like to, and walking down the red carpet.'
For those who are nominated, winning will be an even better experience.
* The Oscars are on Sunday, March 23.
OUR PREDICTIONS FOR OSCAR SUCCESS >>>>
***** Chicago. Razzle dazzle may push it to a musical Oscar win.
**** Gangs Of New York. Big budget historical spectacular. Could benefit from its extensive publicity campaign, but maybe seen as too violent in the current political climate.
*** The Pianist. Possible dark horse. Has already won various other prestigious awards, including the BAFTA.
** The Hours. Has won critical acclaim, but has not been too successful at the box office. Outsider.
* Lord of the Rings. The smart money's on the third of the trilogy picking up the award next year.
***** Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt). May well add another Oscar to the three he has already won.
**** Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs Of New York). Nicholson's closest competition. Odds almost too tight to call.
*** Adrien Brody (The Pianist). Like his film, he's a possible surprise winner. He's also the only actor among the five who hasn't previously won an Oscar and that could work in his favour.
** Nicolas Cage (Adaptation). A fantastic performance, but unlikely to be rewarded.
* Michael Caine (The Quiet American). Lone nomination for his film, which may be seen as too anti-American at this nationalistic time.
***** Nicole Kidman (The Hours). May be her year, particularly as she missed out last year for Moulin Rouge. Also won the BAFTA.
**** Renée Zellwegger (Chicago). Would be something of a surprise winner, but is popular and so is the film. Recent win at the Screen Actor's Guild Awards has certainly boosted her chances.
*** Julianne Moore (Far From Heaven). A double nominee this year (she's also in the best supporting actress category in The Hours) and very popular with the Academy for her acting ability. Could unexpectedly come out on top.
** Diane Lane (Unfaithful). Respected actress who turns in an excellent performance. Film is probably too low-key to win a major award.
* Salma Hayek (Frida). Worth a nomination, but unlikely to turn that into Oscar glory.
***** Rob Marshall (Chicago). His first film, and very possibly his first Oscar.
***** Martin Scorsese (Gangs Of New York) Didn't win for Raging Bull or Goodfellas, so perhaps this is his time. Will the Academy feel they should reward him before it's too late?
*** Roman Polanski (The Pianist). His past may hinder him, but others could feel it's time he was welcomed back into the fold.
** Stephen Daldry (The Hours). British director hoping to follow in Sam Mendes' footsteps.
* Pedro Almodovar (Talk To Her). A win is unlikely, especially as his film is not even nominated for best picture. Anti-war speech at the BAFTAs is unlikely to have helped his cause.