It'll be a red-hot Chicago night at the 60th Annual Golden Globes. Unless, um, it isn't.

Until the envelopes are opened at Sunday's ceremony, all we have to go on is buzz, predictions, and more buzz.

But about that buzz...

Chicago, the tough-talking, high-kicking musical which leads all Globe contenders with eight nominations, "has that intangible buzz of Hollywood," says award-show maven Tom O'Neil. "The current buzz is that it's going to win the Oscar [for Best Picture]. It's clearly the frontrunner."

As such, O'Neil, author of Movie Awards: The Ultimate, Unofficial Guide to the Oscars, Golden Globes, Critics, Guild & Indie Honors, expects the film that made Richard Gere tap dance to dazzle at the Globes, too.

And it's not just O'Neil. It's the pick of critics from USA Today, the Associated Press and other top publications surveyed by O'Neil's, the award-show tracking Website, to claim big wins for Best Musical/Comedy, Best Musical/Comedy Actress (for Renée Zellweger) and Best Musical/Comedy Actor (for the tap-dancing Gere).

But those critics are stateside critics--they're not the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, members of whom actually vote for the Globes. No matter, O'Neil thinks they, too, have picked up the Chicago vibe.

"The Globe [voters] are notorious trend-watchers," he says.

Of course, voters of the Golden Satellite Awards, a maverick offshoot of the Globes, like to think they're trend-watchers, too. And, last Sunday, they picked My Big, Fat Greek Wedding as Best Musical/Comedy over Chicago. ("That was a shockaroo," O'Neil says.) The two films will square off again at the Globes.

Overall, O'Neil thinks this year's ceremony will prove most useful in determining which film will be the chief challenger to, yes, Chicago at the 75th Annual Academy Awards, scheduled for March 23.

The critics at have the Globes' Best Drama race a toss-up, with The Hours edging out Roman Polanski's The Pianist. The literary-minded The Hours, featuring Nicole Kidman as author Virginia Woolf, is the top Globe nominee after Chicago, with seven nods.

The U.K.-based online gaming Website Betfair also has The Hours as the slight favorite among the dramas, with Chicago the big favorite among the musicals and comedies.

Other consensus favorites, per GoldDerby: Daniel Day-Lewis, a Best Drama Actor for Gangs of New York, Julianne Moore, Best Drama Actress for Far from Heaven and Martin Scorsese, Best Director for Gangs of New York.

"The Globes more than any other awards like spreading the wealth around," O'Neil says. "They don't mind splitting director and picture."

The one lock for Sunday night: Gene Hackman, who'll be presented with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for career achievement.

Since it's been 21 years since the Globes bestowed an honor upon Pia Zadora, it's been 21 years since the Globes played for big laughs. They're now regarded as the most reliable indicator for the Oscars.

But O'Neil says the view that Globe voters only recently got with the program is shortsighted. In the previous 59 Globe ceremonies, he says, the winner of either the musical/comedy or drama categories was selected Best Picture at the Academy Awards 43 times.

"This is not just a warm-up for the Oscars," O'Neil says. "In many respects, it's the best sneak peek we have."

If Chicago denizens are brassy enough to look ahead to the Oscars (nominations are out February 11), they may want to brace themselves: A musical hasn't been named Best Picture since Oliver! managed that move in 1968.

E! Entertainment Television's on-the-scene coverage of the 60th Annual Golden Globes, from the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, is scheduled to kick off at noon (ET/PT) Sunday. NBC, which will carry the ceremony, goes Globe-al, starting at 7 p.m. (ET/PT).

And award-show junkies, take note: Winners of the 2003 Critics' Choice Awards, in which Adaptation, About Schmidt and The Hours are the top nominees, are to be announced Friday night, with the ceremony broadcast at 8 p.m. (ET/PT), Saturday on E!

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