LOS ANGELES – The end of year means one thing in Hollywood: Oscar (search) fever is epidemic.
"It's all about buzz, rumors, sneaking into early screenings, reviewing movies you haven't even seen, because people are talking about them and [everything] is aimed toward who will be on the Oscar list," said entertainment journalist Jeanne Wolf (search).
Millions are at stake as studios release their best work around the holidays, hoping to keep it fresh in Academy voters' minds.
"This isn't just about money, this is about affirmation, prestige, about being in the really big boys club of Hollywood," Wolf said.
From blockbusters to small independents, expect a few surprises alongside the same old faces when the Oscar nominations are announced Jan. 25.
The early favorites are the Ray Charles biopic "Ray"; Pixar's "The Incredibles"; Martin Scorsese's (search) "The Aviator"; "Closer," starring Julia Roberts (search); "Spanglish," starring Adam Sandler (search); Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby"; "The Phantom of the Opera"; "Finding Neverland"; and the indie flick "Sideways."
"With the onslaught of award shows and the amount of campaigning we can expect, it's anybody's guess who will walk away with nominations and statues — and believe me, everybody's guessing," Wolf said.
This year's controversy surrounds what to do about Mel Gibson's hugely successful "The Passion of the Christ," and whether entertainment industry politics will push Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" to the top of the Best Picture category.
"In a way, they're almost asking people to voice their political view with a vote on 'Fahrenheit 9/11,'" Wolf said. "And if you're a fan of the picture, that's a very clever ploy. If you're an artist, you always have to worry about mixing your vote for the finest of something with what exactly agrees with you."
The red carpet will be rolled out at the end of February.
FOX News' Mike Waco and William LaJeunesse contributed to this report.