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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Golden Globe Awards, dubbed Hollywood's biggest party, get rolling on Sunday with a who's who of the celebrity world turning out for the annual film and television honors that last year were derailed by a screenwriters' strike during Tinseltown's Oscar season.
But 2009's Golden Globes will go on as planned with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie expected in the red carpet fashion parade outside the widely watched awards ceremony.
Tension couldn't be higher, industry pundits say, because many of the key award races for best films, actors and actresses are too close to call.
"There's no absolute shoo-in at the Globes this year, not even Heath Ledger," said Tom O'Neil of the Los Angeles Times award-watching site, TheEnvelope.com.
Ledger, who portrayed the villainous Joker in the Batman movie "The Dark Knight," died last year of an accidental prescription drug overdose. He is nominated for best supporting actor.
The Golden Globe Awards, which are voted upon by some 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, are one of the most-watched Hollywood awards shows. Many winners will go on to compete for February's Oscars, the world's top film honors from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Last year, the screenwriters' strike caused the HFPA to transform the glitzy, black-tie event into a boring news conference, and only 5.8 million television viewers tuned-in.
That figure is far less than the U.S. TV audience of 20 million that watched the year before, which does not include the millions more around the world who see taped repeats.
This year, audiences should expect a return to glamour and a close race for the HFPA's top award, best dramatic film.
Pundits give "Slumdog Millionaire," about a young Indian man competing for love and money on a TV game show, the best shot of beating "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," an epic love story starring Pitt as a man who ages backward.
But the experts also caution to not ignore "Frost/Nixon," which recounts interviews of disgraced former U.S. president Richard Nixon by British TV host David Frost. The other two nominees are dramas "The Reader" and "Revolutionary Road."
In two other major races -- best dramatic actor and actress -- the battles are too close to call.
Among actresses, Anne Hathaway as a recovering drug addict in "Rachel Getting Married," will see her key competition from Meryl Streep playing a nun who suspects child sex abuse in her Catholic school in "Doubt."
But they face strong challenges by Angelina Jolie in "The Changeling," Kate Winslet for "Revolutionary Road" and Kristen Scott Thomas for French film, "I've Loved You So Long."
The dramatic actor race pits veteran Frank Langella playing the former president in "Frost/Nixon" against Sean Penn as slain gay activist Harvey Milk in "Milk," Pitt in "Benjamin Button," comeback kid Mickey Rourke for "The Wrestler" and DiCaprio as a frustrated husband in "Revolutionary Road."
Finally, some viewers won't even watch the awards so much as the red carpet fashion, and despite the dour U.S. economy that has left many Americans saving their pennies, Hollywood is expected to arrive in style at the Golden Globes.
"During times like this, America turns to celebrities to take them away from that. It's really the glamour of Hollywood that people want to see," said style expert Michael O'Connor.
Editing by Anthony Boadle