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Oscar buzz intensifies as ballot deadline passes

Voting for the 81st Academy Awards closed here Tuesday, with rags to riches "Slumdog Millionaire" remaining in pole position for the Oscars' coveted best picture prize. Pics: Oscar nominations 2009

entertainment Updated: Feb 18, 2009 13:31 IST

Voting for the 81st Academy Awards closed here Tuesday, with rags to riches

Slumdog Millionaire

remaining in pole position for the Oscars' coveted best picture prize.

Ballots from the 5,810 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences were due to be returned to auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers by 5 pm (0100 GMT) ahead of Sunday's Oscars.

Once the votes have been tallied, the names of the winners will be sealed in foil-lined envelopes and only two PricewaterhouseCoopers employees will know the results prior to Tinseltown's biggest night of the year.

Oscars pundits say low-budget drama Slumdog Millionaire is the overwhelming favorite to win best picture.

Other nominees for best picture include The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader, Frost/Nixon and Milk. But the battle for best actor and actress appeared to tighten down the home straight.

While Sean Penn (Milk) and Kate Winslet (The Reader) remain favorites in the top acting categories, experts predicted the two frontrunners could face strong challenges from Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) and Meryl Streep (Doubt) respectively.

"Meryl Streep is certainly gaining momentum," said Tom O'Neil, a columnist with theenvelope.com of the Los Angeles Times.