Oscar Preview: Can ‘King’s Speech’ Be Dethroned?

The period drama seems poised to take the Best Picture crown once promised to 'The Social Network.'

If the 83rd Academy Awards had been held a month ago, shortly after the critics groups had doled out their prizes and the final glasses of champagne had been drained at the Golden Globes, “The Social Network” would almost certainly have nabbed Oscar’s Best Picture statue. After all, David Fincher’s film about the salacious founding of Facebook hardly encountered a critics group it didn’t woo and win over, before going on to earn four Globes, including Best Motion Picture – Drama. What could possibly stand between “Social Network” and the Academy’s top honor?

As it turns out, another month. And another biopic, this one telling a story that begins some 80 years ago and resembling a far more traditional Oscar film than Fincher’s exploration of youth and digital beauty. “The King’s Speech” bounced back from its Globe defeats (it nabbed just one of seven nominations, with Colin Firth taking top dramatic actor) and secured important wins from the Producers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild.

So much for creating a big tent with the inclusion of 10 Best Picture nominees. Like last year, we find ourselves watching a two-horse race that, at this point, might not be all that close. Kudos to “Toy Story 3,” “Winter’s Bone” and “Inception,” but their nominations are kind of the equivalent of pity invites to a kid’s birthday party: Sure, the birthday boy was forced to request the pleasure of your company, but he’s not going to pretend you’re anything more than a seat-filler. Our man Oscar holds the most exclusive birthday party in Hollywood, and its voters like it that way.

What’s interesting this year is the nature of the two-horse race. In 2010, it came down to a decision between a populist fave in “Avatar” that made a gazillion dollars at the box office and a critics’ darling in “The Hurt Locker” that maybe six people saw in the theater. Both “Social Network” and “King’s Speech,” meanwhile, have almost identical box-office grosses and high-90s ratings at the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator. The difference between the two is that “King’s Speech” is the kind of film that could have been an Oscar nominee a decade ago — or a half-century ago — whereas “Social Network,” in everything from story line to subtext to soundtrack, is directly plugged into 2011.

That’s not to suggest “King’s Speech” is some musty relic of yesteryear, nor that contemporary relevancy is a requirement for Oscar glory. The key, rather, is that the best film should win. And if you ask us, the finest film of the year is “Social Network.” But as in so many years past — from how “Gladiator” bested “Traffic” to the way “Shakespeare in Love” beat out, well, geez, take your pick! — the best film of the year doesn’t always receive that Oscar honor.

We can talk about momentum, we can indentify vital precursor wins, we can cite all manner of historical facts and we can lament fuddy-duddy voters. None of it seems to matter. On Sunday night, it appears, a very good film but hardly the year’s best will win Best Picture. Let’s offer our early congratulations to “The King’s Speech.”

Which Oscar contender should take Best Picture? Share your pick in the comments!

Will it be a regal evening for “The King’s Speech”? Can “The Social Network” dial up Oscar gold? Don’t miss MTV News’ “2011 Oscars Live” at 6 p.m. Sunday, February 27, when we’ll be chatting with your favorite Hollywood stars live from the red carpet on MTVNews.com, and stick with us all Oscar night for winners, interviews, photos and more!

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