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Final Oscars preparations underway before awards night

Hollywood's award season reaches its extravagant finale at the Oscars on Sunday, February 9, with war epic "1917" tipped to dispatch a brigade of winners to the stage at the movie industry's biggest night.

Impeccably dressed A-listers and upstart documentary filmmakers will brush shoulders on the red carpet at Los Angeles' Dolby Theatre, as months of campaigning for 24 gold statuettes boil down to a single night.

The event comes as Hollywood mourns the death of Kirk Douglas, one of cinema's greats, who died Wednesday aged 103.

Sam Mendes's "1917" launched a late assault on this year's Academy Awards -- it was first shown to voters barely two months ago -- but experts predict it could outflank all rivals.

The World War I odyssey about two soldiers crossing no-man's-land -- filmed to appear like one continuous shot -- has conquered nearly all in its path in the award shows building up to Sunday.

It is the favourite for multiple Oscars from best director to cinematography, and the frontrunner for best picture, the night's top prize.

The unique ballot system for best picture -- which involves voters ranking films -- makes it somewhat tough to predict and could create an opening for an unlikely candidate.

Despite the best efforts of star filmmakers Martin Scorsese ("The Irishman") and Quentin Tarantino ("Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood"), Mendes' main rival appears to be Bong Joon-ho.

The charismatic South Korean director has become Hollywood's darling in recent weeks, drawing unrivalled crowds at campaign events for his black comedy "Parasite."

The film about a poor family infiltrating a wealthy household looks to be a shoo-in for best international feature -- but could also triumph in some of the top categories.

The ceremony will go on without a host for a second consecutive time after last year's batch of bright guest presenters caused a trend-bucking uplift in TV ratings.

This year's presenter lineup is equally star-studded: Tom Hanks, Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton will appear alongside previous winners Brie Larson, Olivia Colman and Rami Malek.

Elton John, tipped to win the best original song Oscar for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" from "Rocketman," will perform, as will big Grammys winner and upcoming James Bond songstress Billie Eilish.

In a possible tip to the ongoing controversy over the lack of female nominees, Irish maestro Eimear Noone will become the first woman to conduct a segment of music during an Oscars telecast.

Still, diversity among guest hosts and performers is unlikely to assuage anger over this year's nominations.

Cynthia Erivo was the only non-white acting nominee, for the anti-slavery biopic "Harriet," and no women made the best director list.

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