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Image: Colin Firth in "The King's Speech"
Laurie Sparham  /  The Weinstein Company
Colin Firth portrays King George VI in "The King's Speech," the story of Queen Elizabeth II's father's battle to overcome a debilitating stammer.
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updated 1/25/2011 11:10:57 AM ET 2011-01-25T16:10:57

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."

Oscar fans: Cast your vote for best picture

"True Grit" ran second with 10 nominations, including acting honors for last year's best-actor winner Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld.

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"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."

Oscars noms diluted by 10 best picture choices

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.

Story: Academy nominates surprising music acts

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.

Make your picks with our printable ballot (.PDF)

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.

Video: Firth on Oscar nods: Proud of ‘royal flush’ (on this page)

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."

Vote: Rate the Oscar nominees (on this page)

"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."

Video: Franco: Oscar nod ‘big honor’ (on this page)

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.

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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.

Video: Oscar nominees announced (on this page)

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.

Video: Renner: Oscar nod ‘fantastic,’ ‘overwhelming’ (on this page)

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.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: 'And the Oscar nominees are'

Gallery: Best picture

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Photos: Young Oscar nominees

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  1. Quvenzhane Wallis

    Quvenzhane Wallis was nominated for a best actress Oscar on Jan. 10, 2013, for her role in "Beasts of the Southern Wild." If she wins, she will be the youngest Oscar winner ever, beating Tatum O'Neal, who won for "Paper Moon" when she was 10. But she's not the youngest nominee ever -- Justin Henry was nominated for 1979's "Kramer vs. Kramer" when he was 8. (Fox Searchlight Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Girl on a mission

    Hailee Steinfeld was just 13 when she played Mattie Ross, who hires a U.S. marshal played by Jeff Bridges to track down her father's killer in 2010's "True Grit." She was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar in 2011, but lost to Melissa Leo in "The Fighter." (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Irish rose

    Irish actress Saoirse Ronan was 13 when she was nominated for best supporting actress for her role in 2007's "Atonement," losing to Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton." (Focus Features) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. So excited

    Abigail Breslin plays Olive, a girl who dreams of competing in a beauty pageant in "Little Miss Sunshine." At just 10 years old, she was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar. She lost to Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls." Co-star Alan Arkin said he did not want Breslin to win so that she might have a more normal life. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Riding high

    Keisha Castle-Hughes surprised everyone when she was nominated, at just 13, for a best actress Oscar for her role in 2002's "Whale Rider." In the film she played Paikea, a young Maori girl who wants to break through the patriarchy and become the first female chief, proving herself by riding on the back of a whale. Charlize Theron took home the prize that year for her role in "Monster." (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Dead on

    Haley Joel Osment was only 11 when he saw dead people as Cole Sear in 1999's "The Sixth Sense." He was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar but lost out to Michael Caine's role in "The Cider House Rules." ( Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Hitting the right note

    Anna Paquin starred as Flora McGrath in 1993's "The Piano." In the film, she and her mother (Holly Hunter) are sent to 1850s New Zealand for her mother's arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner (Sam Neill). At age 11, Paquin became the second-youngest person ever to win an Academy Award, beating out Winona Ryder ("Age of Innocence") and Emma Thompson ("In the Name of the Father") for the best supporting actress honor. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Record holder

    Justin Henry was just eight years old when he was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for his role as Billy Kramer in 1979's "Kramer vs. Kramer." In the film, he plays a kid caught between divorced parents (Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman). Though Melvyn Douglas took home the Oscar that year for "Being There," Henry still holds the record as the youngest nominee in Oscar history. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Goodbye, obscurity

    In 1977's "The Goodbye Girl" Quinn Cummings and Marsha Mason starred as a mother and daughter who are tired of getting dumped on by men. Cummings lost the best supporting actress Oscar to Vanessa Redgrave in "Julia," but went on to a co-starring role on the TV series, "Family." ( Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Scorsese's gal

    Jodie Foster was only 14 when she took on the role of prostitute Iris Steensma in Martin Scorsese's 1976 film, "Taxi Driver." Cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) decides he needs to save Foster's character from her life. She was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar, but lost out to Beatrice Straight for her role in "Network." (Courtesy Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Devilish performance

    Linda Blair was just 14 when she starred as Regan Teresa MacNeil in the 1973 film "The Exorcist." In the William Friedkin-directed film, she played a young girl possessed by the devil. She was nominated for best supporting actress but lost out to Tatum O'Neal in "Paper Moon." (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Little darling

    Tatum O'Neal starred with dad Ryan in 1973's "Paper Moon," in which the pair played a couple of con artists on the road. Tatum became the youngest person ever to win an Oscar when she took home the best supporting actress statuette at age 10. She beat out co-star Madeline Kahn, Candy Clark ("American Graffiti") and Linda Blair ("The Exorcist"). (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Picking a pocket or two

    Jack Wild starred as the Artful Dodger in the 1968 Oscar-winning musical "Oliver!" He was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar but lost out to Jack Albertson for his role in "The Subject Was Roses." (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Sweet 16

    Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke starred together as Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller in 1962's "The Miracle Worker." Both actresses took home Oscars, Duke for best supporting actress and Bancroft for best actress. At 16, Duke became the youngest actress to win up to that point, beating out favorite Angela Lansbury ("The Manchurian Candidate"). (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Scouting out Oscar

    Mary Badham, just 10, was nominated for her role as Jean Louise "Scout" Finch in 1962's "To Kill a Mockingbird." She lost to another child actress, Patty Duke in "The Miracle Worker." Badham's on-screen dad (Gregory Peck) did take home the best actor Oscar. "To Kill a Mockingbird" was Badham's first film role. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 10 ain't too young

    Jackie Cooper, 9, was nominated for a best actor Oscar for his role in the 1931 film "Skippy," in which he played a boy who made friends with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, and then tries to prevent the destruction of the shantytown where his new friend lives. At the time, he was the youngest actor ever nominated. He lost out to Lionel Barrymore for his role in "A Free Soul." (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
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