The Coen Brothers' Western True Grit joins The King's Speech and The Social Network at the top of the Oscar list, but who will win on the night?
The Oscars: the race for gold begins
The King's Speech stole a march on The Social Network by gaining the most nominations in the race for the Oscars.
The big surprise was that David Fincher's movie about the origins of Facebook, with its eight nominations, not only received fewer nominations than the 12 gathered by Tom Hooper's King George VI tale, but also fewer than the Coen brother's Western, True Grit, which received 10 nods.
For much of the awards season it has looked as though The Social Network was on course to win the best picture Oscar after picking up the best film award at the Golden Globes and a slew of other trophies. That theory was blown out of the water by the decision of the Producer's Guild of America to award The King's Speech with the best film prize. The Producer's Guild of America is often seen as the best indicator of what will win the Oscar for best film, and The King's Speech now looks to be in pole position.
But both of the front runners could be pegged back by True Grit. The Coen brothers' wry remake of the John Wayne classic was surprisingly snubbed at the Golden Globes, making its success at the Academy Awards even more pronounced. It's the wild card, but nonetheless, taking home the best film prize would be the biggest shock since Crash pipped Brokeback Mountain to best picture in 2006.
Indeed, the big furore of this awards season came about after The Golden Globes surprisingly gave nominations to the disappointing Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie remake of the French film The Tourist and to Burlesque and totally ignored True Grit. It was after this announcement took place that accusations that the Foreign Press Association had been overly influenced by studio lobbying, including an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas, first surfaced. Fuelling the fire, of course, were Ricky Gervais's jokes about the matter while presenting at the Golden Globes awards ceremony.
The Academy has not risked the same criticism with a largely predictable set of nominations. In the running for the best picture are 10 films - and it was fairly safe to say that nine of these films were always going to be on the list. The big question was what would be the 10th film, joining the likes of Toy Story 3, Black Swan, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours and Inception; the films in prime position were the break-up movie Blue Valentine, Ozak-mountain set Winter's Bone and Ben Affleck's Boston heist movie The Town. In the end it was Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, about a girl who tracks down her drug-dealing father, that got the pick.
Colin Firth is the firm favourite to pick up the best actor award. He didn't get the statue last year for his turn in the adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's novel A Single Man. But his performance as the British king with a stutter is the type of role that Academy voters love.
The main competitors seem to be the eternally loveable Jeff Bridges, who follows in John Wayne's Stetsons by playing Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. It's impossible to rule out Bridges, as he is like the furniture at the Oscars. And the nomination of Javier Bardem for his turn in the bleak Biutiful proves that affection counts for a lot at the Academy.
James Franco, who will host the ceremony with Anne Hathaway, will have to do a quick change if he wins for his performance as the mountain climber forced to chop off his arm in 127 Hours.
The best actress race seems to be wide open. It's the only major category where no one from The King's Speech, The Social Network or True Grit are nominated. Annette Bening, who gives a wonderful turn in The Kids Are All Right is a favourite, although the Academy often goes for the glamour award in this category and that would make Natalie Portman in Black Swan a strong candidate. Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine cannot be ruled out either.
In the supporting actor and actress categories it looks as though The Fighter will be battling its way to a couple of wins. Both Christian Bale and Melissa Leo remain strong favourites to follow up their Golden Globe wins with another round of speech making. Geoffrey Rush, who plays the indefatigable speech therapist in The King's Speech and Helena Bonham Carter's Queen Elizabeth remain their main challengers. Jacki Weaver's best-supporting-actress nomination for the much-admired Australian drama Animal Kingdom was a pleasant surprise.
Over the past two years, since the Academy expanded the best picture category to 10 films, taking a closer look at the best director category has been the best way to whittle down the list to the five most likely to win the big prize. It would be a major shock were the best picture prize not to go to a film where the director was at the very least nominated, and so the indicators are that the dance-off will be between Black Swan, The Fighter, The King's Speech, The Social Network and True Grit.
The documentary category delivered an interesting and diverse mix of films, with British filmmakers well represented. The artist Banksy will probably still remain in hiding despite the nomination for Exit Through the Gift Shop; it's a surprising choice, given how much fiction there seemed to be in the film about the street art scene. Lucy Walker received a nod for her documentary Waste Land, about the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz and his art project using recyclable materials from the landfills of Brazil. Liverpool-born Tim Hetherington is the third British director nominated in this category for his look at a band of Americans in Afghanistan, Restrepo. The other two films nominated are looks at the world of finance: Inside Job and Gasland, about malpractice in the natural gas industry in the US.
In the running for foreign film are Mexico's Biutiful; the troubling family drama Dogtooth from Greece; Susan Bier's Danish-set drama In a Better World; Rachid Bouchareb's Outside the Law; and Incendies, about the journey by two young adults to the Middle East to find out more about their roots.
Toy Story 3 looks set to get the best animation gong with only How to Train Your Dragon and The Illusionist by The Triplets of Belleville director Sylvain Chomet as competition.
But who will be making the majority of speeches come Oscar night is still very much open to debate. The King's Speech may have the most nominations, but it could be a year when the little gold statuettes are spread across a host of films, rather than there being one movie that sweeps the board.
The King's Speech is released in the UAE tomorrow.