Swan queens and stuttering kings

By James Sanford

Tonight's Academy Awards are almost certain to include a couple of surprises

If the buzz is to be believed, Natalie Portman's unstable Swan Queen and Colin Firth's stuttering King George VI will be crowned Oscar winners at tonight's Academy Awards. But there may well be some surprises and upsets in other categories, including a tough race among the best supporting actress contenders and, amazingly, a fierce battle for best picture as well.
Director David Fincher's birth-of-Facebook drama "The Social Network" was widely regarded as a shoo-in to win best picture when it arrived on the scene last September. But then came a British Invasion of sorts: "The King's Speech" masterfully built on its rave reviews from the Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals to emerge as a potential challenger to "Network." Now, it may very well triumph over it, having already made more money at the box office than "Network" and, apparently, striking more of an emotional chord with audiences. In difficult Oscar races, it is often the film that people take to heart that wins the gold (remember "Ordinary People" winning over "Raging Bull"? "Dances With Wolves" over "Goodfellas"?).
Firth and Portman are all but sure things -- although Annette Bening's champions are insisting she may get a final push across the finish line, it doesn't look likely -- and Christian Bale could have taken home the best supporting actor Oscar after the first screenings of "The Fighter" last fall.
Best supporting actress is harder to determine. Initially, the winner was thought to be Melissa Leo, for her performance as the fire-breathing mom in "The Fighter." But each of her rivals has considerable support now, including her co-star, Amy Adams, who's been nominated previously for "Junebug" and "Doubt." Veteran British actress (and all-around class act) Helena Bonham Carter could easily capitalize on the "King's Speech" mania to claim the prize, or long-shot Jacki Weaver -- also playing a hard-driving mother -- might parlay her critics' awards for "Animal Kingdom" into an Oscar win. But the real upset for Leo will almost certainly come from 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, who is the engine of the Coen Brothers' "True Grit" and does sensational work in her first screen role. "Grit" has become a surprise smash and much of its success is due to Steinfeld's strong personality and the way she holds her ground against Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon.
If you want a few more predictions, scroll down the list: In many categories, I have noted a "personal pick" or a "pick to win"; in some categories in which I'm not familiar with all the nominees, I have only made a "pick to win."
The Academy Awards begin tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC, with hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway. (Since the show always runs at least three hours or so, let's hope for some unexpected victories.)
I will be Tweeting comments and analysis throughout the presentation tonight at twitter/jamessanford, if you want to follow along.

Actor in a Leading Role

Javier Bardem in Biutiful

Jeff Bridges in True Grit

Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network
Colin Firth in The King's Speech (personal pick and pick to win)
James Franco in 127 Hours

Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale in The Fighter (personal pick and pick to win)
John Hawkes in Winter's Bone

Jeremy Renner in The Town
Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right

Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

Actress in a Leading Role

Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole 
Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone 
Natalie Portman in Black Swan (personal pick and pick to win)
Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine

Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams in The Fighter

Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech (personal pick)

Melissa Leo in The Fighter

Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit (pick to win)
Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom

Animated Feature Film
How to Train Your Dragon
- Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois 
The Illusionist
- Sylvain Chomet 
Toy Story 3
- Lee Unkrich (personal pick and pick to win)

Art Direction
Alice in Wonderland
- Production Design: Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Karen O'Hara (pick to win)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
 - Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan 
 - Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat (personal pick)
The King's Speech
- Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Judy Farr 
True Grit
- Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

Black Swan
- Matthew Libatique 
- Wally Pfister (personal pick)
The King's Speech
- Danny Cohen 
The Social Network
- Jeff Cronenweth 
True Grit
- Roger Deakins (pick to win)

Costume Design
Alice in Wonderland
- Colleen Atwood (pick to win)
I Am Love
- Antonella Cannarozzi (personal pick)
The King's Speech
- Jenny Beavan 
The Tempest
- Sandy Powell 
True Grit
- Mary Zophres

Black Swan
- Darren Aronofsky 
The Fighter
- David O. Russell 
The King's Speech
- Tom Hooper
The Social Network
- David Fincher (personal pick and pick to win)
True Grit -
 Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Documentary (Feature)
Exit through the Gift Shop
- Banksy and Jaimie D'Cruz (pick to win)
- Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic (personal pick)
Inside Job
- Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs 
- Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger 
Waste Land
- Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

Documentary (Short Subject)
Killing in the Name

Poster Girl

Strangers No More

Sun Come Up
(pick to win)
The Warriors of Qiugang

Film Editing
Black Swan
- Andrew Weisblum 
The Fighter
- Pamela Martin 
The King's Speech
- Tariq Anwar 
127 Hours
- Jon Harris (personal pick and pick to win))
The Social Network
- Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Foreign Language Film 
Biutiful - Mexico 
- Greece (pick to win)
In a Better World
- Denmark 
- Canada 
Outside the Law
(Hors-la-loi) - Algeria

Barney's Version
- Adrien Morot (pick to win)
The Way Back
- Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng 
The Wolfman
- Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

Music (Original Score)
How to Train Your Dragon
- John Powell 
- Hans Zimmer (personal pick)
The King's Speech
- Alexandre Desplat 
127 Hours
- A.R. Rahman 
The Social Network
- Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (pick to win)

Music (Original Song)
Coming Home
from Country Strong - Music and lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey 
I See the Light
from Tangled - Music by Alan Menken/lyric by Glenn Slater 
If I Rise
from 127 Hours - Music by A.R. Rahman/lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong 
We Belong Together 
from Toy Story 3 - Music and lyric by Randy Newman (pick to win)

Best Picture
Black Swan

The Fighter

(personal pick)
The Kids Are All Right

The King's Speech
(pick to win)
127 Hours

The Social Network

Toy Story 3

True Grit

Winter's Bone

Short Film (Animated)
Day & Night
(personal pick and pick to win)
The Gruffalo

Let's Pollute

The Lost Thing

Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage
(Madagascar, a Journey Diary)

Short Film (Live Action) 
The Confession

The Crush

God of Love

Na Wewe
(pick to win)
Wish 143

Sound Editing
- Richard King (personal pick and pick to win)
Toy Story 3
- Tom Myers and Michael Silvers 
Tron: Legacy
- Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague 
True Grit -
 Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey 
- Mark P. Stoeckinger

Sound Mixing 
Inception - Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick (personal pick and pick to win)
The King's Speech
- Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley 
- Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin 
The Social Network
- Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten 
True Grit
- Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Visual Effects 
Alice in Wonderland - Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips 
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
- Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi 
- Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell 
- Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb (personal pick and pick to win)
Iron Man 2
- Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
127 Hours
- Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy 
The Social Network
- Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (personal pick and pick to win)
Toy Story 3
- Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich 
True Grit
- Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen 
Winter's Bone
- Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Writing (Original Screenplay)
Another Year
- Written by Mike Leigh 
The Fighter -
 Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson 
- Written by Christopher Nolan (personal pick)
The Kids Are All Right
- Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg 
The King's Speech
- Screenplay by David Seidler (pick to win)