( AP ) - Hollywood's month of self-congratulation is here, with a field of Oscar contenders strong enough that no clear favorite for best picture has emerged. Not that it will matter, if the writers strike bleeds into the Feb. 24 telecast.
Because if that happens, only one thing about the Academy Awards is certain:
There will be fallout.
The annual rolling out of the nominees list normally sets the stage for a February full of hugs and kisses as Hollywood's elite pat themselves on the back for a job well done. But writers are shutting down the town's biggest parties to force management back to the negotiating table.
The rushed and tepid Golden Globes "ceremony" was a sure sign that the Oscars presentation could be in trouble, too.
But still there are awards to hand out, strike or no strike.
In the acting categories, potential nominees include past Oscar winners Cate Blanchett for "I'm Not There" and possibly "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"; George Clooney for "Michael Clayton"; Angelina Jolie for "A Mighty Heart"; Julie Christie for "Away From Her"; Jodie Foster for "The Brave One"; Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman for "Charlie Wilson's War"; and Daniel Day-Lewis for "There Will Be Blood."
Among other contenders are Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter for "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"; Javier Bardem for "No Country for Old Men"; and some relative newcomers, Marion Cotillard for " La Vie En Rose," Ellen Page for "Juno" and Nikki Blonsky for "Hairspray."
No front-runner has been established in the best-picture category, whose nominees might include "There Will Be Blood," "No Country for Old Men," "Juno" and "Sweeney Todd" along with "Atonement," "American Gangster" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."A lot of crossed fingers will accompany the adulation this Oscar season, which is jeopardized by the same dispute that snuffed the Golden Globes.
On strike since Nov. 5, the Writers Guild of America refused to let its members work on the Globes, which prompted stars to avoid the show in solidarity. Globe organizers were forced to scrap their glitzy telecast and instead announce winners in a swift, humdrum news conference, without anyone on hand to accept the prizes.
Guild leaders have said that if the strike continues, they will not allow writers to work on the Oscars, either, which might leave nominees and other celebrities forced to choose between attending the biggest night in show business or staying home to avoid crossing picket lines.
Oscar organizers insist their show will go on, with or without writers.
A glimmer of hope arose late last week as the Directors Guild of America reached a deal with producers for a new contract. Many in Hollywood are counting on that deal to help resuscitate negotiations between writers and producers, who walked away from the table Dec. 7.
If the two sides settle their differences in time for the Oscars, the ceremony would become a dual celebration, honoring the best in Hollywood from the previous year and the end of a season of labor discontent that idled TV shows, delayed some movies and threw thousands of production workers into unemployment.
The tentative contract for directors addressed a key issue for writers - pay for films and TV shows that end up on the Internet and other new media. But whether the terms of the directors' deal would satisfy writers remains uncertain.
Oscar nominees are chosen in most categories by specific branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, such as actors, writers and directors. The academy's full membership of about 5,800 was eligible to vote for best-picture nominations and can cast ballots for the winners in all categories at the Oscar ceremony itself.
Assuming the show comes off as scheduled, ABC will broadcast the Oscars live Feb. 24 from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre. Jon Stewart - who recently resumed "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central, but without the help of his striking writers - will serve as Oscar host, a job he also filled two years ago.