- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. (AP) - Academy Awards voters are poised to set up a showdown between a tongue-tied monarch and a viper-tongued Web whiz kid.

“The Social Network,” a tale about the prickly founder of Facebook, and “The King’s Speech,” a saga of Queen Elizabeth II’s stammering dad, are among likely nominees for Hollywood’s biggest prize as Oscar nominations are announced Tuesday.

The two films are the best-picture front-runners. With a best-drama win at the Golden Globes and top honors from key critics groups, “The Social Network” seems to have the edge. But “The King’s Speech” pulled off an upset over the weekend for the main prize at the Producers Guild of America Awards, whose winner often goes on to claim best picture at the Oscars.

For the second-straight year, the Oscars will feature 10 best-picture nominees after organizers doubled the field of contenders from the traditional five to open up the competition to a broader range of films. That returned the show to a setup it had from 1931 to 1943, when 10 films were typically nominated for best picture but as many as 12 were sometimes in the running.

Other prospects this season include the boxing drama “The Fighter,” the sci-fi blockbuster “Inception,” the psychosexual thriller “Black Swan,” the survival memoir “127 Hours,” the Western “True Grit,” the lesbian-family tale “The Kids Are All Right,” the crime stories “The Town” and “Winter’s Bone” and the animated smash “Toy Story 3,” the top-grossing movie released in 2010.

Clear favorites have emerged in most top categories, including Globe dramatic-actor winner Colin Firth as George VI, the reluctant ruler struggling with a disabling stammer in “The King’s Speech.” Among his likely contenders is Jesse Eisenberg as caustic Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network.”

A two-woman race is shaping up for best actress between Annette Bening as a lesbian mom in “The Kids Are All Right” and Natalie Portman as a ballerina becoming unglued in “Black Swan.” Both won Globes: Bening for best actress in a musical or comedy, and Portman for dramatic actress.

Christian Bale is the front-runner for supporting actor as Dicky Eklund, a boisterous boxer fallen on hard times in “The Fighter.” Melissa Leo and Amy Adams both are strong supporting-actress contenders for that film as well.

Organizers for the Feb. 27 Oscars are working to spice up the show, whose TV ratings had been on a general decline. Last year’s Oscars drew the biggest TV audience in five years as organizers streamlined and tried new ways of presenting awards.

This year’s show, the 83rd Oscars, breaks with recent traditions of using comedians as hosts. Instead, big-screen stars James Franco, a potential best-actor nominee for “127 Hours,” and Anne Hathaway, who has nomination prospects for “Love & Other Drugs,” will be co-hosts.

The show’s producers, Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer, said they’re planning a ceremony that will honor the history of the Oscars, yet also be light and lively for audiences.

The show will air live on ABC from Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre.

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Online:

http://www.oscars.org