The good news: This year’s Best Picture race doesn’t have a dud in the bunch. From Sundance hits like The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone to director-driven pieces like Black Swan, True Grit, and 127 Hours to blockbusters like Toy Story 3 and Inception, it’s a satisfying potpourri of different genres, budgets, and themes. But there are really only three films with any chance of winning. As one of the two films with the most acting nominations this year (plus the all-important directing and editing citations), The Fighter qualifies as the scrappy underdog choice. And after virtually sweeping the critics’ prizes and earning eight overall nods, The Social Network was far and away the early favorite. That is, until the announcement of the guild awards, whose voting bodies overlap considerably with the Academy. The King’s Speech scored the rare hat trick of guild prizes (Directors Guild, Producers Guild, and Screen Actors Guild), an achievement matched by only six other films. In five of those cases, the movie went on to take the Best Picture Oscar as well. Only Apollo 13 faltered with the Academy, but that film didn’t have a Best Director nomination to its credit. So even in the later rounds of the Academy’s preferential balloting process, expect The King’s Speech, which boasts the most nominations of any film this year, to have the last word.
12% The Fighter
7% Toy Story 3
23% The King’s Speech
5% Black Swan
5% Winter’s Bone
10% True Grit
20% The Social Network
3% The Kids Are All Right
5% 127 Hours
There’s simply no stronger lock in the major categories this year. Having just won this race last year, Jeff Bridges is at the back of the pack, while the impressive James Franco can focus on his Oscar-hosting gig instead of writing a speech. Javier Bardem, meanwhile, deservedly nabbed a surprise nod for his brutal performance, which will have to serve as his victory this year. The Social Network‘s fans will likely boost Jesse Eisenberg to a second-place finish, but with SAG, BAFTA, and Golden Globe wins (not to mention coming awfully close to winning the Oscar last year for A Single Man), stammering monarch Colin Firth will easily walk away with his first trophy. No hesitation about it.
10% Javier Bardem, Biutiful
5% Jeff Bridges, True Grit
20% Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
55% Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
10% James Franco, 127 Hours
Can Annette Bening actually score an upset here? With four nominations for The Kids Are All Right compared with five for Black Swan, the three-time also-ran certainly has a shot against front-runner Natalie Portman, who’s here with her second career nod. (Happily for Bening, Hilary Swank, who’s beaten her in two Best Actress races, failed to make the cut for Conviction.) Bening has noticeably stepped up her campaign in the past few weeks, but the deficit may be too big to surmount. The rest of the field — from a previous winner (Nicole Kidman) to a past nominee (Michelle Williams) to a first-timer (Jennifer Lawrence) — is worthy, and would have had a chance in a weaker year.
10% Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
35% Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
5% Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
40% Natalie Portman, Black Swan
10% Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
A trio of ace character actors — John Hawkes, Jeremy Renner, and Mark Ruffalo — should feel satisfied that they stood out in a year filled with strong supporting turns. But this race comes down to two men of different generations who just about stole the show from their titular castmates. Geoffrey Rush (a Best Actor winner for 1996’s Shine) delightfully went toe-to-toe with Colin Firth in The King’s Speech and could pull an Oscar upset as part of a sweep for the film. But by completely disappearing into his role as a boxer — turned — crack addict, The Fighter‘s Christian Bale not only snagged his first nomination but a likely Academy Award, too.
35% Christian Bale, The Fighter
10% John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
20% Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
5% Jeremy Renner, The Town
30% Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Oscar category with the biggest history of upsets could have one in store this year as well. Leaving aside Helena Bonham Carter and Jacki Weaver, who may not have delivered showy enough performances to catch the Academy’s eye, it’s a three-way race that could lead to the shock of the night. Melissa Leo has picked up most of the big pre-Oscar prizes, but vote splitting with her Fighter costar Amy Adams, not to mention blowback from her recent self-styled for-your-consideration ads in the Hollywood trades, might torpedo her chances. In that case, precocious 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld could become the latest child actor to score Oscar gold.
20% Amy Adams, The Fighter
15% Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
25% Melissa Leo, The Fighter
30% Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
10% Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
The Academy has split the Best Picture and Best Director prizes three times in the past decade. Could it happen again this year? The King’s Speech is the clear front-runner for Best Picture, but as a relative newcomer, Tom Hooper isn’t a sure thing despite his Directors Guild victory. The race’s other first-time nominees, David O. Russell and Darren Aronofsky, probably need to build up their arsenals a bit more to have a real shot at the statuette, while Joel and Ethan Coen may have won too recently (for 2007’s No Country for Old Men) to repeat. So if there is a split, the beneficiary would likely be second-time nominee David Fincher, who’s got the requisite history to go the distance.
35% David Fincher, The Social Network
30% Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
15% Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
10% Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
10% David O. Russell, The Fighter
Percentages represent how we think the votes will break down, based on previous awards won and conversations with insiders and academy members