Many Oscarologists like myself and Steve Pond (The Wrap) believe that the chief rival to "The Social Network" for best picture at the Oscars is "The King's Speech." The film looks like such a classic Oscar champ that, even before "The King's Speech" debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, Steve predicted that it'll win. (Love that daredevil pundit spirit!)
"The King's Speech" sure looks like Oscar royalty. It was produced by Harvey Weinstein, who's won best picture three times in the past: "Chicago," "The English Patient" and "Shakespeare in Love." It was directed by Tom Hooper, who excels at historical dramas, winning an Emmy for HBO's "Elizabeth I" and being nominated for the same channel's "John Adams." Both won Emmys as best TV miniseries.
There's a very good chance that Colin Firth, who was nominated last year for "A Single Man," will now wear the best actor crown for portraying Britain's reluctant King George VI. Firth faces tough competition from James Franco ("127 Hours") and perhaps Jeff Bridges ("True Grit"), but Firth has many pluses:
1) He portrays a real-life person, just like six of the last 10 champs in the lead actor race.
2) His character has a handicap -- a stammer. Oscar voters love to reward actors who portray characters who strive to overcome such adversity, like past winners Daniel Day-Lewis (crippled in "My Left Foot"), Dustin Hoffman (savant in "Rain Man") and Geoffrey Rush (mental disorder in "Shine"). Rush will probably be nominated in the supporting slot this year for playing Firth's feisty voice coach in "The King's Speech."
3) Firth is a red-hot actor with art-house cache, just like Philip Seymour Hoffman when he won for "Capote."
"The King's Speech" has the kind of gravitas, regal pageantry and historical intimacy that will probably see it nommed for direction, screenplay, costumes, art direction, musical score, etc. It might even lead with the most bids overall.
Films with the most nominations usually win best picture. What about "The King's Speech"? It will certainly be nommed, just like similar films offering backstage views of key political events in history: "Milk," "The Queen," "Frost/Nixon," even "All the President's Men." Those films often lose best picture, frankly, but can end up with a consolation prize for acting (Sean Penn in "Milk," Helen Mirren for "The Queen") or screenplay ("Milk," "All the President's Men").
However, there are notable exceptions, such as "Gandhi" and "The Last Emperor," which won best picture and other top prizes. So "The King's Speech" has hope of ruling on Oscar night.
Photo: Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech." Credit: The Weinstein Co.