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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - And they're off. And it's The King's Speech in the lead. No, wait, it's The Social Network by a nose. Hold on, The Fighter is coming up fast on the inside track.
As the 2010 awards race turns into the backstretch -- the fall film festivals have come and gone, Golden Globe, Critics' Choice and SAG nominations have been unveiled, critics groups have begun to weigh in -- none of the contenders has broken from the pack. At the moment, there's some genuine suspense.
That could change by mid-January, with the Critics' Choice awards slotted for January 14 and the Globes two days later. Oscar nominations will be unveiled on January 25, and the winners announced February 27.
"You could make the case right now that there is a split developing between King's Speech and Social Network," awards consultant Tony Angelotti says. "King's Speech is more the actors' piece, while Social Network has been sold on the basis of its writer, Aaron Sorkin, and director, David Fincher."
From the moment the very British "Speech" debuted at the Telluride (Colo.) Film Festival to a standing ovation in early September, the drama has been a crowd-pleaser. The Weinstein Co. took it a few days later to the Toronto International Film Festival, where the reaction was equally rapturous -- the premiere audience even sang "Happy Birthday" to 50-year-old star Colin Firth. The film ended up with the festival's People's Choice Award.
At the same time, Sony -- with a series of strategic screenings designed to excite awards bloggers -- was readying "Social Network," which made its own auspicious debut as the tony opening-night film at the New York Film Festival. Even before the curtain went up, Film Comment critic Scott Foundas, a member of the festival's selection committee, proclaimed the movie "a splendid entertainment from a master storyteller."
Ever since, most critics have been falling all over themselves to find the right superlatives to praise the movie. While "Speech" eked out one more Globe nomination than did Fincher's movie, critics groups from New York to Los Angeles rushed to endorse "Social Network" as best picture.
Meanwhile, David O. Russell's "The Fighter" was marking time. Paramount did not enter it into the fall festival sweepstakes while awaiting a December launch. But even though the movie was one of the last contestants to enter the ring, it scored six Globe noms, tying "Social Network," and then built momentum when it tied "King's Speech" for SAG Award noms -- both pictures got four.
But though the trio of movies now appear bunched tightly near the top of the leader board, there's plenty of other action this awards season.
Natalie Portman has proved another critical darling for her turn -- on pointe, no less -- as a neurotic ballerina in Fox Searchlight's "Black Swan," which is thrillingly baroque. The film leads the Critics' Choice pack with 12 nominations, one ahead of "The King's Speech" and "True Grit."
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the backwoods drama "Winter's Bone," which first made an appearance at the Sundance Film Festival in January, is bracingly austere, and its lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence, also has been showered with praise. With seven nominations, "Bone" will be the film to beat at Film Independent's Spirit Awards on Oscar eve.
There also are the wild cards: "Toy Story 3" and the thriller "Inception" not only won over critics but dominated the summer box office. "Blue Valentine" got Globes love but no SAG attention. "True Grit," ignored by the Globes, rallied back with the help of the SAG voters.
With so many factors in play, it's far too early to call the race.