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Those films were epic in scope, while “The King’s Speech” is a deeply personal tale, chronicling the unlikely kinship between George VI and unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who helped the king bring his stammer under control.

Hooper, a relative big-screen newcomer best known for classy TV drama, took the industry’s top filmmaking prize over Hollywood veteran David Fincher, who had been a strong prospect for “The Social Network.”

The prize was presented by last year’s winner, Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to earn a directing Oscar.

“Thank you to my wonderful actors, the triangle of man love which is Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and me. I’m only here because of you guys,” Hooper said.

Firth’s win seemed inevitable from the time “The King’s Speech” premiered at film festivals late last summer. Perhaps sealing the deal for Firth was the fresh memory of his dazzling performance in “A Single Man,” which earned him a best-actor slot a year ago, his first Oscar nomination in a career that includes a diverse mix of sober drama (“Girl With a Pearl Earring,” “Where the Truth Lies”) and popular romps (“Mamma Mia!” and the “Bridget Jones” movies).

Portman’s role as a dancer losing her grip on reality while preparing to star in “Swan Lake” has been particularly fertile for the actress: She met her fiance, choreographer Benjamin Millepied, on the set of “Black Swan,” and she is pregnant with their first child.

A former child star who made a memorable feature-film debut in 1994’s hit man tale “The Professional,” Portman grew up on screen, starring in her teens and early 20s as the tragedy-bound spouse of future evil overlord Darth Vader in George Lucas’ second “Star Wars” trilogy and gracefully moving into adult roles, including 2004’s “Closer,” which brought her first Oscar nomination.

Leo’s win capped an unusual career surge in middle age for the 50-year-old actress, who had moderate success on TV’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” in her 30s but leaped to big-screen stardom in her late 40s, a time when most actresses find good roles hard to come by.

In disbelief when she took the stage, Leo said, “Pinch me.” Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas, who presented her award, obliged with a little pinch on her arm.

Bale earned the same prize his Batman co-star, the late Heath Ledger, received posthumously two years ago for “The Dark Knight.” At the time, Bale had fondly recalled a bit of professional envy as he watched Ledger perform on set like a whirlwind as the diabolical Joker while the film’s star had to remain clenched up as the stoic, tightly wound Batman.

“The Fighter” gave Bale his turn to unleash some demons as Dicky Eklund, a boxer whose career unraveled amid crime and drug abuse. Bale delivers a showy performance full of tics and tremors, bobbing and weaving around the movie’s star and producer, Mark Wahlberg, who plays Eklund’s stolid brother, boxer Micky Ward.

The screenplay win realized a lifelong dream for “King’s Speech” writer Seidler, a boyhood stutterer born in London in 1937, a year after George took the throne. Seidler, who overcame his own stutter at age 16, had long vowed to one day write about the monarch whose fortitude set an example for him in childhood.

Seidler thanked Queen Elizabeth II, daughter of King George, “for not putting me in the Tower of London for using the Melissa Leo F-word.” The film includes two scenes where the king spouts profanity in anger to help force out his syllables.

The Oscar for adapted screenplay went to Aaron Sorkin for “The Social Network,” a chronicle of the birth of Facebook based on Ben Mezrich’s book “The Accidental Billionaires.” “The Social Network” also won for musical score for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and for film editing.

The sci-fi blockbuster “Inception” tied “The Kings Speech” with four Oscars, all in technical categories: visual effects, cinematography, sound editing and sound mixing.

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