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DEC
18
4 YEARS

Awards Contenders Jockey For Position in First Heats

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 and SAG nominations have been unveiled, critics groups have begun to weigh in, but Oscar nominations are still more than a month away — none of the contenders has broken from the pack. At the moment, there’s some genuine suspense. That could change by mid-January, when the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. holds its 63rd annual Golden Globe Awards and the guilds begin handing out their trophies. There’s still plenty of time for a consensus to develop that would crown one film the season’s big winner even before the envelope containing the winner of the best picture Oscar is opened Feb. 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 Film Festival to a standing ovation, the drama has been a crowd-pleaser. The Weinstein Co. then took it to the Toronto International Film Festival, where the reaction was equally rapturous — at the movie’s TIFF premiere, the audience at Roy Thomson Hall even sang “Happy Birthday” to star Colin Firth, and by the time the festival ended, the Tom Hooper-directed film was further validated by winning the People’s Choice Award, voted by the festival’s audiences.

At the same time, Sony -- with a series of strategic screenings designed to excite awards bloggers -- was readying 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 nom 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.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the backwoods drama Winter’s Bone, which first made an appearance at the Sundance Film Festival, is bracingly austere, and its lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence, also has been showered with praise. With seven nominations, Roadside Attractions’ 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.