BEVERLY HILLS, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Classic Hollywood takes center stage at the Golden Globes on Sunday, kicking off an unusually crowded awards season where the top movie honors are wide open.
The awards, handed out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), have shown a knack for rewarding movies that go on to do well at the Oscars in February.
Netflix's wrenching "Marriage Story" and costly gangster epic "The Irishman" lead a field of dramatic movie contenders for Golden Globes that feature some of the biggest names in Hollywood but few safe bets on the likely winners.
"The winners are not that predictable. There are four legitimate contenders for top movie drama," said Matthew Belloni, editorial director of the Hollywood Reporter.
Immersive World War One movie "1917" and religious biography "The Two Popes" round out the movie drama contenders.
Also competing for awards are "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" stars Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and director Quentin Tarantino, along with "Hustlers" actress Jennifer Lopez, actors Tom Hanks for "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" and Eddie Murphy in comeback mode with comedy "Dolemite is My Name," and "The Irishman" director Martin Scorsese and veterans Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.
With acerbic British comedian Ricky Gervais hosting for the first time in four years, anything could happen at the informal, often boozy dinner in Beverly Hills.
One of the closest contests is for best movie drama actor between publicity-averse stars Joaquin Phoenix and Adam Driver.
Phoenix's terrifying "Joker" performance has made him a force to be reckoned with this year, while Driver's heart-wrenching role as a father resisting divorce and its consequences follows acclaimed turns as villain Kylo Ren in "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" and political tale "The Report."
A win in the best movie drama or comedy/musical fields by Netflix would mark the biggest Hollywood breakthrough so far by streaming services that have revolutionized the entertainment industry. Netflix leads the pack with a total of 34 nominations across film and television.
One of the few actor shoo-ins on Sunday appears to be Renee Zellweger for her role as the legendary entertainer Judy Garland in "Judy."
"She gave a universally admired performance, and the HFPA has a history of honoring her," said Belloni
Lopez, who wowed audiences as a feisty pole dancer in "Hustlers," which she also produced, appears to be the favorite for the supporting actress statuette, while Pitt is the presumed front-runner for his supporting role as a 1960s stunt man in the nostalgic "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," awards watchers say.
On the television side, Jennifer Aniston crowned her return to the small screen with an acting nomination for "The Morning Show," one of the first offerings from Apple TV+. The show also is in the running for best TV drama series.
The Oscars take place this year on Feb. 9, three weeks earlier than usual, causing a traffic jam of award shows.
"Everything is crunched together. We are going to have award show after award show after award show, and it is exhausting for a lot of the people that are nominated," said Belloni.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Jonathan Oatis