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REUTERS - Independent films, diversity and the tussle between escapism or realism mark Hollywood's 2017 awards season, which swings into high gear on Sunday with the Golden Globes ceremony.
The laid-back Globes dinner in Beverly Hills kicks off two months of red carpets and black tie events punctuated by Oscar nominations on Jan. 24 and culminating in the Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 26.
Musical "La La Land," indie grief drama "Manchester by the Sea," and black coming-of-age film "Moonlight" are leading the awards buzz in a season that has been dominated by small, intimate fare.
"I think 'La La Land' is the one to beat overall this year, and also it's doing really well at the box office and that's another big plus," said Pete Hammond, awards columnist for entertainment website Deadline.com.
"La La Land," a romantic musical about a jazz pianist and an actress struggling in Hollywood, has a leading seven Golden Globe nods, including for best musical/comedy, stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, and writer-director Damien Chazelle.
The Golden Globes are unique in having separate categories for film dramas, and musicals or comedies, assuring "La La Land" several wins on Sunday, according to awards pundits.
The drama category, both at the Globes and elsewhere, appears to be a closer race between "Moonlight," a low-budget movie about an impoverished black boy in Miami struggling with his sexual identity, and "Manchester by the Sea" a study of family grief starring Casey Affleck.
The crunch for awards voters may ultimately come down to the mood in Hollywood after a 2016 marked by celebrity deaths and the election as U.S. president of Donald Trump, who was opposed by much of the entertainment industry.
"I think it's a good year not so much for escapism but for uplift," said Tim Gray, who covers awards for Hollywood trade publication Variety.
"I think a bummer movie, something that leaves you depressed, is going to have a tougher job this year. I feel like people, especially in America, have felt beat-up all year, and you don't want another film that's gonna make you feel beat-up," Gray added.
Last year was marked by soul-searching in Hollywood over movie representations - or lack of them - of people of color and their stories.
That has all changed with contenders like "Moonlight", "Hidden Figures," "Fences," and "Loving."
"We're doing 1,000 percent better than last year on diversity," said Gray.
The Golden Globes, chosen by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, are known for springing surprises, and its members have no say in choosing the Oscars.
Nevertheless, many of their choices on Sunday are likely to mirror the movies that the Hollywood director, actor, writer and producer guilds will honor in their own awards.
"Globe voters are very cognizant of what the leaders are in the Oscar race, and they like to be with the winner," said Deadline.com's Hammond.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Jonathan Oatis