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Oscar Smackdown: Metacritic ('Social Network') vs. Rotten Tomatoes ('King's Speech')

Colin Firth in The King's Speech
Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

The top review aggregator sites dispute who will win Best Picture. But it's not just about the numbers -- it's about heart, instinct, smart calculation, and dumb luck.

Who will win the Oscar? "It seems like it's far and away The Social Network," says Metacritic editor and cofounder Marc Doyle, "If you believe that critics' reactions are in sync with the Academy, which is not always the case." "I still feel that The King's Speech is going to take the Oscar," says Rottentomatoes editor in chief Matt Atchity.

For Doyle, The Social Network's 95 Metascore indisputably beats The King's Speech's 88. "Using our 'All-Time High Scores' filter, only three movies in the last decade (rereleases excluded) scored higher on Metacritic than The Social Network:

1. Pan's Labyrinth, 98 Metascore;

2. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, 97;

3. Ratatouille, 96, another film which [like Toy Story 3, 92] could easily have won best picture."

This year's Carlos, Toy Story 3, Winter's Bone and A Prophet also beat The King's Speech, which is tied with Band of Outsiders at 88 -- maybe because compared to the Academy, Metacritic measures outsiders. Definitely the users differ from AMPAS voters: "They're mostly young smart guys, median age 28, digitally savvy." They buy 10 DVDs a year, see movies twice a month in theaters, and of those interested in movies (some Metacritic users prefer games), two-thirds "tend towards obsessed rather than casual. Our users thought Inception was the #1 movie of the year."

The critics on Rotten Tomatoes -- more of them, measured differently -- also favor Social Network, but less. "Right now King's Speech has a 96 percent Fresh (positive review predominance), with an average rating of 8.7 out of 10, and Social Network 97 percent with an average of 9 out of 10," says Atchity. But the story goes beyond critics' opinions, no matter how you crunch them. "King's Speech is more of an actors' movie, and the acting branch is such a broad constituency. Don't get me wrong, they're both great movies. And King's Speech has a lot of Oscar cliches: British period drama, royalty, a handicap they overcome."

"I keep feeling like there's some secret formula, some kind of a grand algorithm that would explain it. But I'm in the algorithm business, and really what it boils down to is voters voting with their hearts."

Atchity thinks The King's Speech stumbled a bit in its early marketing, but recovered dramatically. "It remained under the radar for a while, but now it's back. Social Network did a good job of bringing that buzz back -- a lot of people say, 'Oh, a summer movie, people will forget about it.' " Thanks to marketing expenses several experts estimate to be at least six times higher for Social Network, it was not forgotten. "Has Harvey lost his touch? If King's Speech wins, they'll say, he's even smarter than ever, look what he's managed to do with a lower marketing budget."

Doyle says his figures hint an upset is possible. "A Black Swan could potentially sneak in there. Winter's Bone might not even get a nomination, but if it does, it'll have a shot."

"I think The King's Speech is going to win," says Atchity. "That might be partly because I like The King's Speech better." 

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