The Envelope/Gold Derby's Tom O'Neil, TheWrap's Steve Pond and Rope of Silicon's Brad Brevet have all written that as of right now (i.e., without anyone having seen True Grit and The Fighter, and not enough people having seen Made in Dagenham and The Way Back), the Best Picture race has boiled down to a choice between The Social Network and The King's Speech.
May I say that Brevet gets it exactly wrong when (a) he calls The Social Network "a good film but not the masterpiece [or the] front runner [that] so many others are painting it as" while (b) describing Tom Hooper's The King's Speech as "the one film that's right up the Academy's alley" (okay, he's not wrong when it comes to the over-50 set) and "a great film." I'm sorry, but no, no, respectfully no.
The King's Speech is a very good, extremely well-made film (regal, Britishy, traditional minded, emotionally satisfying) but not a great one, and The Social Network (with Black Swan nipping at its heels) is as hugely satisfying and masterpiece-level as anything of its type (a blending of the best rat-a-tat instincts of Howard Hawks and Paddy Chayefsky for the telling of a seminal generation tale) could possibly get.
O'Neil writes that "at this point, it sure looks like we have solid Oscar front-runners for Best Picture (The Social Network), Best Actor (Colin Firth, The King's Speech) and Best actress (Natalie Portman, Black Swan). It's very possible that all three could trot across the derby finish line without tripping en route."
Pond says "there's still room for lots of movement, for favorites to fade and dark horses to come out of nowhere," but basically acknowledges that The Social Network and The King's Speech are the main combatants, and that Black Swan and 127 Hours have "stirred up passions" -- i.e., Oscar season journo-speak for "close behind but not quite the leaders of the pack."
I like the way Pond sizes up the chances of Network vs. Speech:
King strengths: "Plays exceptionally well for a mainstream audience, as witnessed by its People's Choice Award at Toronto. It's set in the days before World War II, a conflict long beloved by [older] Oscar voters. It'll get support from the actors branch, since it's a film that soars on the strength of performances from Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter. And it's daring enough, in a quiet way, to not turn off the younger members.
King weaknesses: "Subject matter may be a bit dry to get a major boxoffice boost. If the voters are looking for something adventurous (No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire), this might seem a bit old-fashioned. It could fall into the 'it's a performance movie' ghetto. But most of all, nobody wants to be the frontrunner this far out - least of all Harvey Weinstein, who perfected the art of slipping into the race late in the game.
Social Network strengths: " Smart and sharp and solid. A mainstream move from a director, David Fincher, who is well-admired but has usually been a bit too risky for the Academy's tastes. It captures the tenor of its time, and goes beyond its ostensible subject - the creation of Facebook, and the lawsuits that ensued - to be about something more universal: the quest for connection, whether that's in person or online.
Social Network weaknesses: "Does it make enough of an emotional connection? Perhaps not. The movie ends in a nicely understated manner, with a tinge of regret rather than any big Lessons Learned - but sublety and understatement is hardly the way to win votes of the people who named Crash Best Picture."