Oscar ballots were mailed to Academy Members today and are due to be returned by February 22. Depending on whom you ask, the timing couldn't be worse. Or better. Whether you're rooting for Team "Social Network" or Team "King's Speech," it's been a wild ride for everyone involved, with some of the most dramatic reversals in recent Oscar memory.
Until the nominations were announced a little over a week ago, the only major Oscar prognosticator betting "The King's Speech" would sweep the major awards was my old colleague at Entertainment Weekly, Dave Karger. He long ago planted his flag on the British period drama about the relationship between King George V (Colin Firth) and his eccentric speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush); while the other Gurus o' Gold wondered when Karger would surrender to the assumption that this was the year of "The Social Network." Why wouldn't they? Throughout the Fall critics groups unanimously anointed Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher's fable about the founding of Facebook best picture of the year.
But once the Academy announced its nominations last Tuesday, the game suddenly changed. "The King's Speech" led the pack with a dozen nominations across all the expected categories necessary for an Oscar night blowout. Somewhat shockingly, "The Social Network" came in third with eight nods, behind "True Grit," which netted ten. The four film disparity wasn't considered insurmountable or entirely unexpected: "The King's Speech," like all period films, was always thought to be more competitive in categories like costume design, art direction. And women were largely marginalized in the Harvard nerd-made-good saga, so both actress awards were out. But the snub that stung the most was Andrew Garfield's absence from the list of Best Supporting Actor contenders. He was considered by many to be the emotional heart and soul of "The Social Network" and Academy voters' failure to recognize and reward his sensitive and nuanced performance signaled a disconnect between critics and Hollywood insiders.
The tide shifted even more dramatically in the Brits' favor last weekend, when "Speech" took home the top awards from the Producers, Directors, and Actors Guilds. Suddenly, every so-called expert had whipped out his or her awards abacus and had determined that only one film has ever lost those three guild awards and gone on to collect Best Picture: "Braveheart." And only seven films have ever hit the trifecta of guild awards: "American Beauty," "Chicago," "Apollo 13," "Lord of the Rings," "Return of the King," "No Country for Old Men," and "Slumdog Millionaire."
However, not all the prevailing winds are blowing against "The Social Network." Yesterday, esteemed social commentator and noted atheist, Christopher Hitchens, published a much-forwarded essay in Slate calling out a slew of historical inaccuracies in "The King's Speech." Hitchens' piece is a virtual laundry list of mischaracterizations. Among other things, he takes issue with "Speech's" depiction of Winston Churchill as an ally of King George V. In actuality, according to Hitchens, the portly Prime Minister was much tighter with George V's Nazi-sympathizing divorcee-marrying brother, Edward VIII. Hitchens goes on to accuse the filmmakers of benignly whitewashing the Royal Family's fascist ties. These are all serious oversights to be sure. And they have soaked up a fair amount of ink in the twenty-four hours since the piece went live. But, judging by past mid-Oscar-campaign accusations of historic inaccuracies (think: "Hurricane," "A Beautiful Mind," "Schindler's List"), it's unlikely to tarnish "The King's Speech" enough to put "The Social Network" back on top.
Whatever the outcome, all these twists and turns have made this a riveting race to watch and an equally tricky one to predict. Nonetheless, after consulting our brain trust of Awards hawks, we're jumping into the game with what we feel is a rock-solid set of predictions. These could make you the shark in your office Oscar pool.
Best Picture: "The King's Speech." Best Director: "The Social Network." Best Actor: "Colin Firth." Best Actress: Annette Bening. Best Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld. Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale. Best Original Screenplay: "The King's Speech." Best Adapted Screenplay: "The Social Network." Best Foreign Film: "In a Better World." Best Animated Feature: "Toy Story 3." Best Documentary Feature: "Inside Job." Best Cinematography: "True Grit." Best Editing: "The Social Network." Art Direction: "Alice in Wonderland." Best Costume Design: "True Grit." Best Makeup: "Barney's Version." Best Original Score: "The Social Network." Best Original Song: "Toy Story 3." Best Visual Effects: "Inception." Best Sound Editing: "Inception." Best Sound Mixing: "Inception." Best Animated Short: "Day and Night."