The British monarchy saga "The King's Speech" reigns at the Academy Awards with 12 nominations, including acting honors for Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush and positioning itself to challenge "The Social Network" for best picture.
"The King's Speech" gained momentum against the Facebook drama "The Social Network," which dominated early Hollywood awards. Along with those two films, other best-picture nominees Tuesday for the Feb. 27 Oscars were the psychosexual thriller "Black Swan"; the boxing drama "The Fighter"; the sci-fi blockbuster "Inception"; the lesbian-family tale "The Kids Are All Right"; the survival story "127 Hours"; the animated smash "Toy Story 3"; the Western "True Grit"; and the Ozarks crime thriller "Winter's Bone."
"True Grit" ran second with 10 nominations, including acting honors for last year's best-actor winner Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld.
"The Social Network" won best drama at the Golden Globes and was picked as the year's best by key critics groups, while "The King's Speech" pulled an upset last weekend by winning the Producers Guild of America Awards top prize, whose recipient often goes on to claim best picture at the Oscars.
"I've been texting people in between interviews, and there's a lot of excitement going on across the globe from our team. It's really wonderful. It's sort of like 'Ben-Hur' proportions. It all seems a bit crazy, you know?" said supporting-actor nominee Rush, an Oscar winner for 1996's "Shine."
Along with Rush, best-actor favorite Firth and supporting-actress contender Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech" had nominations for director Tom Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler, plus honors in such categories as cinematography, costume design, art direction and musical score.
Supporting-actor favorite Christian Bale was nominated for "The Fighter." The best-actress field shapes up as a two-woman race between Annette Bening for "The Kids Are All Right," who won the Globe for actress in a musical or comedy, and Natalie Portman for "Black Swan," who received the Globe for dramatic actress.
The supporting-actress Oscar could prove the most competitive among acting prizes. Melissa Leo won the Globe for "The Fighter," but she faces strong challenges from that film's co-star Amy Adams and 14-year-old newcomer Steinfeld, who missed out on a Globe nomination for "True Grit" but made the cut for supporting actress at the Oscars.
"I'm still reeling from the Golden Globe and its extraordinary and unique recognition," said Leo, whose film emerged late last year as a low-budget underdog that parallels the story of "The Fighter," about a late-blooming boxer who gets a title shot. "Is it art imitates life, or life is imitating art? What happened?"
For the second-straight year, the Oscars feature 10 best-picture contenders after organizers doubled the field from the usual five to open the awards up to a broader range of films. But even in a field of 10, the prize likely comes down to two films.
"The Social Network" casts Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who's depicted as an interpersonal lout in one-on-one relations but a genius for the masses, creating an online hangout where half a billion people now keep connected with friends.
"The King's Speech" stars Firth as Queen Elizabeth II's father, the stammering George VI, who reluctantly came to the throne after his brother abdicated in 1936, a terrible time for a stuttering monarch as British subjects looked to their ruler for inspiration via radio as World War II approached.
The two films represent a showdown between classy, traditional Oscar bait and edgy, youthful, up-to-the-minute drama.
With its aristocrats, statesmen and perilous times, "The King's Speech" is a throwback to the majestic, eye-filling costume pageants that dominated film awards in Hollywood's earlier decades. Bonham Carter was nominated as the king's devoted wife and Rush was nominated as his wily speech therapist.
"The Social Network" is an immediate story, set not in palaces but college dorm rooms, cluttered start-up space and anonymous legal offices where Zuckerberg battles former associates over the proceeds of his invention.
"I think that what resonated is that it's not a timely story. I think what resonated is that it is a timeless story, one with themes as old as storytelling itself: of friendship and loyalty, of betrayal, power, class, jealousy," said Aaron Sorkin, a nominee for adapted screenplay for "The Social Network."
"These are things that Aeschylus would have written about or Shakespeare would have written about. And it's just lucky for me that neither of those guys were available, so I got to write about it."
David Fincher is the best-directing favorite for "The Social Network" after winning that prize at the Globes.
Along with Firth and Eisenberg, best-actor contenders are Javier Bardem as a dying father in the Spanish-language drama "Biutiful," which also is up for best foreign-language film; Bridges as boozy lawman Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit," a role that earned John Wayne an Oscar for the 1969 adaptation of the Western novel; and James Franco in the real-life tale of a climber trapped in a crevasse after a boulder crushes his arm in "127 Hours."
Bening was nominated for best actress as a lesbian mom whose family is thrown into turmoil after her teenage children seek out their sperm-donor father in "The Kids Are All Right." Portman was nominated as a ballerina losing her grip on reality in "Black Swan."
Other best-actress nominees are Nicole Kidman as a grieving mother in "Rabbit Hole"; Jennifer Lawrence as a teen trying to find her missing father amid the Ozark Mountains' criminal underbelly in "Winter's Bone"; and Michelle Williams as a wife in a failing marriage in "Blue Valentine."
Joining Fincher and Hooper among best-director picks are Darren Aronofsky for "Black Swan"; Joel and Ethan Coen for "True Grit"; and David O. Russell for "The Fighter."
One notable omission was director Christopher Nolan for "Inception," though he got a nomination for original screenplay. Nolan also missed out two years ago on a directing Oscar nomination for "The Dark Knight," which was famously not nominated for best picture. That contributed to the decision to double the number of contenders so that acclaimed popular movies would have a better chance.
The directing category is back to an all-male lineup after Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win that prize last year for "The Hurt Locker," which also claimed best picture.
Bale, the star of Nolan's "Batman" franchise, is a strong favorite to win supporting actor as former boxer Dicky Eklund, who helps his half-brother to a title shot after his own career unraveled amid drugs and crime in "The Fighter." The film's star, Mark Wahlberg, missed out on a nomination as Eklund's half-brother, boxer Micky Ward.
Two years ago, Bale's "Batman" co-star, the late Heath Ledger, was on the same awards track as he won a posthumous Oscar for supporting actor for "The Dark Knight."
"The Fighter" offers two sterling supporting-actress performances from Leo as Ward and Eklund's doting but domineering mother and Adams as Ward's tough, defiant girlfriend. Steinfeld, who was just 13 when she shot her debut performance in "True Grit," also is a strong contender as a girl who hires lawman Cogburn to track down her father's killer.
"Toy Story 3," the top-grossing film released in 2010, also is nominated for animated feature and is expected to become the fourth-straight winner in that category from Disney's Pixar Animation, following "Up," ''WALL-E" and "Ratatouille." Pixar has won five of the nine animation Oscars since the category was added.
The other animation nominees are "How to Train Your Dragon" and "The Illusionist."
While two of the three animated categories are huge commercial successes, the best-picture race is a mix of big commercial hits and smaller critical darlings, which is what academy organizers wanted when they expanded the competition to 10 films.
"True Grit" is the first $100 million Western hit since the 1990s, "The Social Network" climbed to about $95 million in revenue, and "Black Swan" is closing on $100 million. At the other end are "Winter's Bone" with $6.3 million and "127 Hours" with $11 million, respectable returns for lower-budgeted independent films but small change next to big studio productions.
Besides Leo, Adams, Bonham Carter and Steinfeld, Jacki Weaver earned a supporting-actress nomination as a crime family matriarch in the Australian thriller "Animal Kingdom."
Rounding out the supporting-actor field with Bale and Rush are John Hawkes as a backwoods tough guy in "Winter's Bone"; Jeremy Renner as a holdup man in the bank-heist thriller "The Town"; Mark Ruffalo as a sperm-donor dad in "The Kids Are All Right."
The Oscar ceremony will be televised live on ABC from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.