HOLLYWOOD (AFP) - The stage is set for the 85th Academy Awards on Sunday, with Ben Affleck’s Iran hostage drama “Argo” bidding to edge out Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” at the climax of Hollywood’s awards season.

The red carpet is rolled out and ready for Tinseltown’s finest to strut and preen before the Oscars show, widely seen as one of the least predictable in recent memory following a bumper movie year. Affleck won a last-minute diplomatic boost Saturday when new US Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted his best wishes for the film.

“Good luck @BenAffleck and #Argo at the Oscars. Nice seeing @StateDept & our Foreign Service on the big screen.-JK,” wrote Kerry, referring to the film’s plot about an audacious CIA plot which rescued six US diplomats from Tehran.

British songstress Adele shone at rehearsals on the eve of the heavily musical night, when she will sing 007 theme “Skyfall” and legendary diva Barbra Streisand will give her first Oscars performance for 36 years.

Out front, on the closed-off section of Hollywood Boulevard, armies of technicians and workers have put the final touches to the red carpet where Spielberg, Affleck and dozens of fellow nominees gather before the show.

Spielberg, bidding for his first best picture Oscar since “Schindler’s List” in 1994, tops the nominations with 12 nods for “Lincoln” - but “Argo” has cleaned up in Hollywood’s awards season so far, despite having only seven.

Although he started the season two months ago in front, Spielberg may have to settle Sunday for the best director award - one that Affleck cannot beat him to, having not been nominated in the category, in a perceived snub.

But again here there could be an upset, with rivals including Taiwan-born Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” or even Austrian dark horse director Michael Haneke for Cannes-topping “Amour.”

One near-certainty Sunday is that “Lincoln” star Daniel Day-Lewis will be named best actor, a record third for the British-Irish actor after wins in 1990 for “My Left Foot” and in 2008 for “There Will Be Blood.”

For best actress, the early favorite was Jessica Chastain, playing a CIA agent hunting Osama bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty,” but the clever money is now on Jennifer Lawrence for her turn in “Silver Linings Playbook.”

The best supporting actress race is more open, although Anne Hathaway is probably still the frontrunner for her heart-wrenching turn in “Les Miserables,” which is also nominated for best picture.

The most unpredictable race of all is perhaps for supporting actor, with Hollywood legend Robert De Niro tipped by some for playing Cooper’s father in “Silver Linings Playbook.”

But strong rivals in the category include Austrian Christoph Waltz as a white bounty hunter who frees Jamie Foxx’s black slave in Quentin Tarantino’s blood-spattered “Django Unchained,” as well as Tommy Lee Jones in “Lincoln.”

On the foreign front, the clear frontrunner is “Amour,” which won the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival for its heart-wrenching portrayal of an elderly couple coping with encroaching physical and mental illness.

Its French female lead, Emmanuelle Riva, could even cause an upset in the best actress category, some critics believe. Riva, who will be 86 on Sunday, is coincidentally also the oldest ever best actress nominee.

The best animated feature contest is widely seen as a battle between Scottish-themed princess adventure “Brave” and “Wreck-It Ralph,” about a video game villain fed up with being the bad guy.

On the eve of the Oscars meanwhile, “Silver Linings Playbook” got a publicity boost Saturday when it was named best film at the Independent Spirit Awards, as well as winning the best actress and best director prizes.

In a more dubious honor, the anti-Oscar Golden Raspberries, or Razzies, gave seven of their 10 prizes to the last installment of the “Twilight” franchise, including worst film, worst director and worst actress for Kristen Stewart.

Remarkably, as film directors worry about their creations, organizers are growing increasingly concerned about the viability of the awards show itself that appears to be losing its luster as an undisputable advertising juggernaut.

If the nationally televised ceremony drew an average of 46 million viewers in the 1990s, according to Nielsen, its viewership, for the most part, was below 40 million in the last five years.

In addition, the median age of the audience has risen from barely 39 twenty years ago to nearly 53 last year.

These figures are of concern to advertisers and organizers who are making a concerted effort to inject new life into what is still considered a must-see TV event.

This year’s show will feature songs from Barbra Streisand and Adele, a sketch based on the movie “Ted”, and a James Bond tribute.

Interesting facts about the Oscars

HOLLYWOOD (AFP) - Here are some interesting and offbeat facts about this year’s Oscars:

-The youngest and oldest nominees ever appear in one category, for the first time since the earliest Oscars: nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis is nominated for best actress for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” while 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva is up for her role in “Amour.” The French star turns 86 on Sunday, when the winners will be announced at the 85th Academy Awards.

-In fact they’re not the 85th Academy Awards, at least not officially - they’re just the Oscars this year. “We’re rebranding it,” co-producer Neil Meron told an interviewer last week. “We’re not calling it ‘The 85th annual Academy Awards,’ which keeps it mired somewhat in a musty way. It’s called ‘The Oscars’.” An Academy spokeswoman said the name changes from year to year.

-Another name change: the venue hosting the Oscars is now officially the Dolby Theatre, not the Kodak Theatre, after the bankrupt camera company pulled out of its sponsorship for the Hollywood Boulevard building. The audio pioneer snapped up the chance to have its name linked to the Academy Awards, officially changing the sign on the front last May.

-”Amour” (“Love”) is only the fifth film ever to be nominated for both best foreign movie - for which it is the frontrunner - and best picture overall. The others are “Z,” which won best picture in 1969; “The Emigrants,” nominated for foreign language in 1971 and best picture in 1972; “Life is Beautiful,” which won the best foreign language Oscar in 1998; and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” the foreign language winner in 2000.

-The oldest ever Oscar acting nominee was Gloria Stuart, who was 87 when she was nominated as best supporting actress for 1997’s “Titanic.” The youngest acting nominee was Justin Henry, who was eight when nominated as best supporting actor for 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

-George Clooney, a co-producer of Ben Affleck’s best picture favorite “Argo,” joins Warren Beatty as the only person having been nominated for best picture, directing, acting and screenwriting.

-John Williams, nominated for best original score for Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” has more Oscar nominations than any other living person, with 48. The only person with more overall was Walt Disney, with 59. Woody Allen is the second most-nominated person still alive, with 23. He has won four, but is famously reluctant to leave his native New York to come to Hollywood to collect them.

-Jessica Chastain, nominated for best actress for Osama abin Laden manhunt movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” is the only acting nominee who was also up for an Oscar last year - as supporting actress for civil rights-era drama “The Help.”

- the Governors Ball, the formal after-party immediately following Sunday night’s show, there will be 1,500 guests, 1,500 bottles of champagne, 12,000 glasses, 6,500 Oscar statuette-shaped flat breads, 1,300 farmer oysters, 600 Maine lobsters, 10 pounds of white truffles from Alba, Italy, 10 pounds of black truffles from Burgundy, France, 5,000 mini chocolate Oscars and 10 pounds of edible gold dust.

-The hors d’oeuvres include Smoked Salmon Oscars, Duck Wontons, Mini Kobe-Style Burgers or Assorted Pizzas. Among main dishes are Baked Potato and Caviar, Steamed Red Snapper with Thai Spice, and Truffle Macaroni and Cheese. Desserts include Mango Crumble, Huckleberry Macarons, and Bon Bons. There are also Concord Grape Lollipops, Violet Velvet Truffles, and Everyone’s Oscar Favorite Peanut Butter Chocolate Pop Rock Pop, which is vegetarian.