Nominations for this year's Oscars will be unveiled on Tuesday, with the ‘Barbenheimer’ juggernaut expected to roll on to the climax of Hollywood's awards season with multiple chances at glory.
After a combined $2.4-billion global box office take, ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ - two films linked only by their simultaneous release last July - are seen as locks for a suite of nods for the 96th Academy Awards, which take place on March 10.
"It continues to be their year, and we expect them to dominate the nominations," Pete Hammond, columnist for industry site Deadline, told AFP.
With its clutch of five Golden Globes and momentum on its side, ‘Oppenheimer’ - Christopher Nolan's masterly portrait of the father of the atomic bomb - appears to have the edge in the race for best picture, the Academy's top prize.
Greta Gerwig's popular ‘Barbie’ - a sharp satire about misogyny and female empowerment - is playing catch-up after an initial burst of awards optimism faded.
The film, which had nine nominations for the Globes, left with just two consolation prizes - best song and a newly created trophy for box office achievement.
And, said Hammond, it faces an uphill battle to turn its audience gold into major Oscars success.
"Comedies, or something considered lighter, are generally at a disadvantage against something a little heavier," he said.
"So in the world of Barbenheimer, 'Oppenheimer' definitely has the advantage because it's got gravitas; it's important."
Rounding out the best picture category, nominations are widely expected for Martin Scorsese's crime saga ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ and Venice Film Festival winner ‘Poor Things,’ a female-focused take on the Frankenstein myth.
Christmas boarding school tale ‘The Holdovers’ is already being spoken of as a durable seasonal classic, while Leonard Bernstein biopic ‘Maestro,’ which sees Bradley Cooper in front and behind the camera, also appears well placed.
The well-received French film ‘Anatomy of a Fall,’ which won two Golden Globes including best screenplay, might fare well in a world where voters no longer seem scared of subtitles.
A year for women directors?
Between Justine Triet's ‘Anatomy,’ Gerwig's ‘Barbie’ and ‘Past Lives,’ a Korean-American drama by Celine Song, the fight for the best picture Oscar could include three works directed by women, a historic first.
Over nine-and-a-half decades of awards, only 19 films by female directors have been nominated for the top prize.
"It could be the biggest year ever for women, in terms of the best picture race," said Hammond.
In the acting categories, the two summer blockbusters seem likely to garner nominations for their stars -- Cillian Murphy as scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, consumed by the devastating consequences of his creation, and Margot Robbie as a perfect doll tormented by morbid thoughts.
The two films' supporting actors could also be recognized - Robert Downey Jr shines as a foil to Oppenheimer more concerned with his own political fortunes than understanding quantum physics, while Ryan Gosling is remarkable as an emasculated Ken.
Da'Vine Joy Randolph appears to be in pole position for best supporting actress honours for her tour-de-force as the school cook in Alexander Payne's 1970s-set ‘The Holdovers.’
Joining Margot Robbie in the best actress race will likely be Emma Stone for her no-holds-barred turn in ‘Poor Things,’ and Lily Gladstone, who plays a Native American whose tribe's oil wealth is threatened by a series of murders in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon.’
Her scheming (or is he just stupid?) on-screen husband Leonardo DiCaprio might make the best actor list, but it's a tough ask in a crowded year.
In addition to Murphy and Cooper, nominees could also include Paul Giamatti's uptight history teacher in ‘The Holdovers,’ Jeffrey Wright's unwittingly popular author in ‘American Fiction’ and Colman Domingo for his turn as a charismatic, gay civil rights activist in ‘Rustin'’
The unveiling of the Oscar nominations will begin at 5:30am (1330 GMT) on Tuesday.