American moviegoers won't be able to see a blockbuster like "Avatar" or "Titanic" this weekend, but they'll have their pick of some of the most prestigious movies of the year.
"The King's Speech," which opens Saturday in Austin, is garnering some of the biggest year-end awards. And Colin Firth has gotten rave reviews for his portrayal of a stuttering King George VI just as radio emerges as the main way for a monarch to communicate with his subjects.
Firth is a virtual shoo-in for a best-actor Oscar nomination, and "The King's Speech" also appears to be one of the main contenders for the best-picture Oscar. Already, Firth has been nominated for a Golden Globe, and he has been picked as best actor by the New York and Los Angeles critics circles.
"The King's Speech," however, probably will be overshadowed at the box office by another likely Oscar nominee, "True Grit," which was filmed in Central Texas and opened here Wednesday. Although it was shut out of the Golden Globe nominations, "Grit" has an Oscar pedigree. John Wayne won best actor for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in 1969's original, and the directing team of Joel and Ethan Coen have a long Oscar history, with such classics as "Fargo" and "No Country for Old Men." And then there's Jeff Bridges, who plays Cogburn in the new movie and won the Oscar for last year's "Crazy Heart."
Other Oscar contenders are still showing in Austin theaters. They include "The Social Network," which won best picture from the New York and Los Angeles critics circles, as well as "127 Hours," director Danny Boyle's tale of a hiker (played by James Franco) who becomes trapped by a boulder and has to amputate part of his arm to become free.
Also getting Oscar buzz are director Darren Aronofsky's wild ballet thriller, "Black Swan," and the boxing drama "The Fighter," both of which opened in Austin this month.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will reveal its nominations on Jan. 25. The awards show is scheduled for Feb. 27. In an attempt to revive sagging television ratings for the annual Oscarcast, the academy last year expanded the best-picture category to 10 nominees.
Here's a look at the top contenders in various categories:
"The Social Network" looks like the leading contender so far, but a backlash could develop. Some critics have pointed out that the portrayal of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is far less complicated than the real person, but that hasn't stopped the film from winning a host of critics awards.
The likely nominees: "The Social Network," "The King's Speech," "True Grit," "Black Swan" and "127 Hours."
Other contenders: Christopher Nolan's mind-bender "Inception," the popular "Toy Story 3," the boxing drama "The Fighter," the independent favorite "Winter's Bone" and Ben Affleck's crime drama "The Town."
Long shots: Director Mike Leigh's "Another Year," Doug Liman's "Fair Game," Lisa Cholodenko's comedy "The Kids Are All Right," the animated "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1." (The latter is, after all one of the biggest movie franchises in history, and Hollywood has previously overlooked the series. A best-picture nomination for "Potter" also might attract younger viewers.)
This one appears to be completely up in the air. David Fincher, director of "The Social Network," has picked up several early critics' awards. But he faces big competition from Danny Boyle, who won for 2008's "Slumdog Millionaire" and directs this year's "127 Hours."
The likely nominees: Darren Aronofsky for "Black Swan," Joel and Ethan Coen for "True Grit," Christopher Nolan for "Inception," Fincher and Boyle.
Other contenders: Tom Hooper for "The King's Speech," Lisa Cholodenko for "The Kids Are All Right" and David O. Russell for "The Fighter."
Long shots: Martin Scorsese for "Shutter Island," Mike Leigh for "Another Year," Ben Affleck for "The Town" and Clint Eastwood for "Hereafter."
Ryan Gosling probably turned in the most surprising performance of the year for "Blue Valentine," but Colin Firth of "The King's Speech" looks like the early favorite to win best actor. In a role that could have gone way over the top, Firth manages to bring humor and humanity to a king. And the academy loves this kind of traditional historical drama.
The likely nominees: James Franco for "127 Hours," Jeff Bridges for "True Grit," Jesse Eisenberg for "The Social Network," Gosling and Firth.
Other contenders: Robert Duvall for "Get Low," Paul Giamatti for "Barney's Version" and Leonardo DiCaprio for "Inception" or "Shutter Island." If the academy decides to expand its horizons to foreign-language films in this category, Javier Bardem of "Biutiful" has a good chance.
Long shots: Kevin Spacey as the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff in "Casino Jack," Mark Wahlberg as the beleaguered boxer in "The Fighter," Sean Penn in "Fair Game" and Michael Douglas for "Solitary Man."
This is probably the tighest race of the year. Lesley Manville, who is little-known in the United States, is brilliant as a single British woman with a host of personal issues in "Another Year." But Annette Bening as the lesbian mom of "The Kids Are All Right" is probably the favorite. She has been nominated three previous times, and the academy loves her (for good reason).
The likely nominees: Natalie Portman for "Black Swan," Michelle Williams for "Blue Valentine," Jennifer Lawrence for "Winter's Bone," Manville and Bening.
Other contenders: Nicole Kidman as a grieving mother in "Rabbit Hole," Julianne Moore for "The Kids Are All Right," Tilda Swinton for the Italian drama "I Am Love" and Hilary Swank for "Conviction."
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale of "The Fighter" and Geoffrey Rush of "The King's Speech" will probably slug it out in this contest. As a former boxer and crack addict, Bale steals "The Fighter," even though he's a secondary character and has to play off such high-powered co-stars as Melissa Leo and Amy Adams. But Rush is an academy favorite.
The likely nominees: Andrew Garfield for "The Social Network," Jeremy Renner for "The Town," Mark Ruffalo for "The Kids Are All Right," Bale and Rush.
Other contenders: Michael Douglas, a sentimental choice, for "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," Sam Rockwell for "Conviction" and Matt Damon for "True Grit."
Long shots: Jim Broadbent for "Another Year," John Hawkes for "Winter's Bone" and Armie Hammer for "The Social Network."
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Yet another tight race. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams might split the vote among supporters of "The Fighter." Both are great in it, and they'll have to contend with Helena Bonham Carter for "The King's Speech."
The likely nominees: Hailee Steinfeld for "True Grit," assuming she doesn't get a best-actress push; Jacki Weaver as the strong-willed mother in the Australian crime drama "Animal Kingdom" and Leo, Adams and Bonham Carter.
Other contenders: Juliette Lewis for "Conviction," Mila Kunis for "Black Swan," Barbara Hershey for "Black Swan."
Long shots: Marion Cotillard for "Inception," Dianne Wiest for "Rabbit Hole."
The academy already has winnowed the field in this category to 15 films, eliminating such favorites as "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work." And it's anyone's guess as to which film will get the final honor. If the academy chooses to take the political hot-potato route, then "Waiting for ‘Superman' " and "Inside Job" are surefire nominees.
The likely nominees: "Waste Land," "Restrepo," "The Tillman Story," "Inside Job" and "Waiting for ‘Superman.' "
Other contenders: "Exit Through the Gift Shop," "Enemies of the People" and "Gasland."
Long shots: "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer," "Enemies of the People," "Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould," "The Lottery," "Quest for Honor," "This Way of Life" and "William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe."