Golden Globe organisers were to unveil nominations for their annual movie awards overnight, as Hollywood's honours season gets into full swing with a bumper cast of hotly tipped contenders.

The historical drama 12 Years a Slave got an early boost on the eve of the nominations, topping the Screen Actors Guild nods yesterday with four.

But this year's race risks being particularly crowded, with a string of films winning critical acclaim, ranging from 3D sci-fi spectacle Gravity to historical epics such as The Butler and crime drama American Hustle.

On the acting front, early frontrunners include Meryl Streep, Forest Whitaker, Tom Hanks, Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett, as well as the lesser known Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and June Squibb (Nebraska).


"This is easily the best year I've seen," said Variety's awards editor, Tim Gray, who has worked at the industry journal since 1981.

"Usually there are three or four films that are certain to be nominated for best picture, and then you guess what films will fill the other slots. This year, there are at least 15 films that deserve a best picture nomination."

Those films also include Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, the Walt Disney Mary Poppins tale Saving Mr Banks, and at least three movies based on real events - Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club and Stephen Frears' new movie Philomena.

Blanchett is tipped as a frontrunner for Allen's film about a troubled New York socialite, while Sandra Bullock impressed both critics and filmgoers as an astronaut stranded in space with George Clooney in Gravity.

Emma Thompson captivated as Mary Poppins writer P.L. Travers against Hanks' Walt Disney, and fellow British veteran Dame Judi Dench could be nominated for the title role in Philomena, about a woman seeking her adult son lost after she was forced into a convent as a child.

For drama, Ejiofor is widely tipped for 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen's drama about a man sold into slavery in 19th-century America, while Matthew McConaughey has won plaudits for Dallas Buyers Club, for which he lost 13.5kg to play a rodeo hustler diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s. Hollywood veteran Redford could also get a shot at awards gold for his solo performance in All Is Lost, about a shipwrecked sailor.

On the small screen, best drama series nominees are likely to include cult series Breaking Bad and political drama House of Cards, while Girls and Modern Family are expected to be shortlisted for best comedy.

Elisabeth Moss and Holly Hunter from Jane Campion's Top of the Lake were both nominated for best actress in a TV drama in the Screen Actors Guild announcement yesterday and it is possible the New Zealand-shot production may figure in the 71st annual Golden Globes to be held on January 12 in Beverly Hills.