"The King's Speech" just staged a palace coup at the Oscars, seizing the most nominations by far – 12. That's four more than "Social Network" and one more than all pundits thought possible. (Hey, how the heck did it get nommed for best sound mixing?)
Now many Oscarologists are jumping off "The Social Network" bandwagon, switching their prediction back to "The King's Speech" to win Best Picture, bolstered by its victory last Saturday at the Producers Guild of America. Over the past 20 years, the PGA has correctly forecasted the top Oscar 13 times.
But, wait! Let's not forget that "The Social Network" recently staged the kind of kudos sweep of the film critics' awards, Golden Globe and National Board of Review that usually results in an automatic win on Oscar night.
So what's really going to win?
We're going to have to wait for the next two batches of tea leaves. First will come on Saturday night when the Directors Guild of America prize is bestowed – probably to David Fincher ("The Social Network"). That may slow down today's new bandwagon for "King's Speech" – or maybe not. Fincher's DGA victory has been considered to be a foregone conclusion since the start of derby season.
However, that guild victory shouldn't be shrugged off. Only six times in that award's history has it failed to mirror its Oscar equivalent. And over the past 40 years, the movie that won DGA went on to win Best Picture 33 times.
Heading into the Oscars, Fincher seems like a shoo-in to win Best Director there too. While that award has also agreed with Best Picture 33 times in 40 years, there have been quite a few exceptions lately – four in the past 12 years.
If "The King's Speech" will be one of those films that can split up the awards for Best Picture and Director, we may get a glimpse of it on Sunday night. That's when the Screen Actors Guild bestows its laurels. Most interesting – the category for best ensemble. Most pundits say it will go to "The Fighter," but if "The King's Speech" rules, it could be further evidence of its secret kudos heft. While the SAG ensemble award and Oscar for Best Picture have lined up only 7 times in 15 years, two of those overlaps foretold Oscar upsets: "Crash" (2005) and "Shakespeare in Love" (1998). And "King's Speech" may have a strategic advantage. It's one of only two DVDs sent to all 98,000 SAG members. The other was "Social Network," which doesn't contain the kind of pretentious acting that voters adore. Yes, "The Fighter" and other contenders like "Black Swan" were made available to guild members via iTunes, but it's unlikely that too many chose to download an acclaimed award contender to view on their laptops.
This Oscar battle between "The King's Speech" and "The Social Network" sets up a classic kudos contest – old vs. new.
"The King's Speech" looks just like the kind of prestige historical drama that used to sweep the Oscars like "Gandhi," "Amadeus," "Out of Africa" and "The English Patient," but is that genre still in vogue? What's been winning lately are very atypical Oscar champs: gritty critics' faves like "The Hurt Locker," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "No Country for Old Men."
The newest trend bodes well for "Social Network," but Fincher's riff on the Facebook revolution has one major drawback. It may skew too young. Academy members, remember, are geezers who may nominate movies appealing to young hipsters like "Avatar," "District 9" and "Juno," they just rarely win – even when we are convinced they can't lose ("Brokeback Mountain").
However, last year's champ "The Hurt Locker" had young hipster's appeal. Does that mean times, and academy tastes, have really changed? Or did it win because of the mysterious connection between the Best Director/Picture categories -- the film thus catching a free ride aboard Hollywood's desire to reward a woman at long last in the helmer's contest?
If the latter is true, then "Social Network" could catch a ride aboard Fincher's expected win as Best Director.
As things stand now, strong arguments can be made for both "The King's Speech" and "The Social Network" claiming the Oscar crown for Best Picture. Their battle is a classic Hollywood cliffhanger.