Entertainment & Arts

Oscars 2011: The King's Speech seeks crown

The final countdown to the Oscars has begun, with The King's Speech and The Social Network going head to head for the coveted best picture prize.

The former, which has taken more than $230m (£142m) at the global box office, has 12 nominations, including a best actor nod for Colin Firth.

James Franco and Anne Hathaway will host the 83rd Academy Awards, which take place in Los Angeles later.

Voting by the Academy's 5,755 members ended earlier this week.

Outside the Kodak theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, the traditional red carpet is ready for the influx of A-list talent.

The show's organisers are aiming at a more youthful edge this year, with 28-year-old Hathaway set to become the youngest host in Oscar history.

Viewers should not expect them to deliver in-jokes aimed at the celebrity audience, as Ricky Gervais did at this year's Golden Globes.

Movie montages have also been scrapped, though the Oscar-nominated songs - omitted from last year's ceremony - will be making a comeback.

The evening will see Randy Newman, Mandy Moore and Gwyneth Paltrow performing songs from Toy Story 3, Tangled and Country Strong respectively.

Britain's Florence Welch, meanwhile, will sing If I Rise from 127 Hours, which Dido performed in Danny Boyle's film.

127 Hours is one of 10 films up for best picture, an award The King's Speech has been tipped to win by The Hollywood Reporter.

According to the industry paper, Academy voters - who have an average age of 57 - are more likely to identify with its middle-aged heroes than The Social Network's youthful, fast-talking cast.

The latter film has eight nominations in all, as does Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic Inception. The Coen brothers' western True Grit has 10 nods.

Other films up for best picture include Black Swan, The Fighter, The Kids are All Right and Winter's Bone.

The King's Speech is riding high on a wave of success, having won seven awards at the Baftas and a slew of other prizes.

In the best actor category Firth is up against Jeff Bridges for True Grit, Javier Bardem for Biutiful and Franco for 127 Hours.

Jesse Eisenberg is also nominated for his portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network

Golden Globe and Bafta winner Natalie Portman is the hot tip to receive the best actress prize for Black Swan.

Yet she faces competition from Annette Bening, for The Kids Are All Right, and Nicole Kidman, for Rabbit Hole.

Jennifer Lawrence is also nominated for Winter's Bone, while Michelle Williams is up for romantic drama Blue Valentine.

Yet it is the battle for the supporting actress Oscar that looks set to be one of the closest races.

The Fighter's Melissa Leo is considered to be favourite, though some have wondered if her decision to self-finance an advertising campaign promoting herself to voters might damage her chances.

She will also face a strong challenge from her Fighter co-star Amy Adams and from Helena Bonham Carter, who plays the future Queen Mother in The King's Speech.

Nor should one should rule out a surprise win for 14-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld for her assured performance in True Grit.

Image caption Weaver is recogised for Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom

There is a lot of admiration too for Jacki Weaver, whose role in crime drama Animal Kingdom has made her the first Australian actress to be Oscar-nominated for an Australian film.

One name that has dominated headlines in the Oscars build-up has been Banksy, whose film Exit Through the Gift Shop is up for best documentary.

While other nominees have been on the chat show circuit, the elusive British artist made his presence felt by placing examples of his graffiti art around Los Angeles.

It has led to speculation about what might happen if Banksy wins. Will he accept the award in disguise? Will he even turn up at all?

All will be revealed once the Academy Awards get under way on Monday at 0100 GMT.

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