Hot on their heels are a variety of films, from offbeat royal romp "The Favourite" (also with 10 nominations), to Spike Lee's race drama "BlacKkKlansman," to crowd-pleasers like superhero flick "Black Panther" and musical romance "A Star Is Born."
Two biopics -- "Vice" about former US vice president Dick Cheney and "Bohemian Rhapsody" about the band Queen -- round out the list of contenders for best picture.
The 7,900-odd voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had bold choices in front of them -- traditional art-house Oscar bait, and big, rousing blockbusters.
"With eight best picture nominees, every film has passionate supporters, but no film has a consensus," Tim Gray, awards editor for showbiz trade publication Variety, told AFP.
All will be revealed at the Dolby Theatre, in a ceremony beamed around the world to millions of showbiz fans, with a twist -- there will be no host for the first time in three decades.
The Academy opted to take the risk after comedian Kevin Hart withdrew from the gig in the face of a firestorm over past controversial tweets that were slammed as homophobic.
"They still don't have an answer to a question that's been around since the first TV showing in 1953: is this a presentation of every category, or is it entertainment?" Gray said. "They want it to be both."
The entertainment factor will be high when Queen opens the show with singer Adam Lambert fronting the iconic band.
Will Glenn Close finally win?
For top acting honours, Christian Bale's transformation into Cheney for "Vice" gave him the early lead in the Oscars race and several statuettes.
But Rami Malek won respect from his peers -- and a Golden Globe, Bafta and a Screen Actors Guild award -- for his spellbinding turn as late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
"In Christian Bale's, I see an incredible actorly thing, but with Rami Malek, you see a role that just really connected with audiences," said Variety's chief film critic Peter Debruge.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the newcomer disrupts in this case."
The best actress race has a clear favourite, Glenn Close, who has swept the prizes for her gripping work in "The Wife" as a woman on the edge when her author husband wins the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Close continued her success with the best actress trophy at Saturday's Film Independent Spirit Awards, held every year the day before the Oscars on Santa Monica beach, a few miles from Hollywood.
"It's very hard for me to accept the win-lose situation. I don't think there are any losers," Close told reporters on the red carpet.
Lady Gaga wowed fans and critics with her turn in "A Star is Born," and Yalitza Aparicio's nomination for her first acting role in "Roma" earned praise. But it looks to be Close's night.
"It is not her strongest role, but it is an opportunity for her to really own a small film, to carry it on her shoulders, and to remind the industry that here is one of our real treasures as an actress," Debruge said.
Mahershala Ali ("Green Book") and Regina King ("If Beale Street Could Talk") are the odds-on favourites in the supporting acting categories.
Better ratings this year?
The Academy -- desperate to boost television ratings that have plummeted in recent years -- is trying to stick to a three-hour telecast, but it hit a few bumps along the way.
Controversies over its efforts to save time included plans to present a handful of awards during commercial breaks and to feature only a few of the nominated songs. Both ideas have since been scrapped.
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper will sing their power ballad "Shallow" from "A Star Is Born." Songstresses Jennifer Hudson, Bette Midler and Gillian Welch will also perform.
But Variety reported that Kendrick Lamar and SZA would not perform "All the Stars" from "Black Panther," due to a "logistics and timing" issue.
The 91st Academy Awards begin Sunday at 5:00 pm (0100 GMT Monday).
Alfonso Cuaron's black-and-white cinematic ode to his childhood, 'Roma,' leads with 10 nominations and is a firm favourite for the coveted best picture Academy Award.