- Associated Press - Sunday, January 16, 2011

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Old-fashioned Oscar bait and youthful, edgy drama will butt heads at Sunday’s 68th annual Golden Globes, where the regal 1930s saga “The King’s Speech” and the contemporary Web tale “The Social Network” contend for top honors.

The two films are considered the favorites for best drama — “The King’s Speech” leading the Globes with seven nominations and “The Social Network” dominating awards from top critics groups.

Preparations for the annual Globes show — more dinner party than awards ceremony — were still under way Sunday morning, with workers scurrying about the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where festivities were set to begin at 8 p.m. EST, broadcast live on NBC.

The buzz around town on Globes weekend was as much about likely winners as it was about a lawsuit filed late Thursday by a former longtime publicist for the Globes claiming the organization that runs the show, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, engages in payola schemes for nominations and awards. The allegations have been denied by the HFPA, a group of about 85 reporters covering show business for overseas outlets.

More than 150 stars of TV and film were expected at Sunday night’s ceremony, including Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Lopez, Bruce Willis, Robert Downey Jr., Helen Mirren, Jeff Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer, Steve Carell, Justin Bieber, Tom Hanks, Jane Fonda, Geoffrey Rush, Renee Zellwegger, Sylvester Stallone and the various nominees.

Besides “The Social Network” and “The King’s Speech,” also competing for best drama at the Globes were the ballet thriller “Black Swan,” the boxing story “The Fighter” and the science-fiction smash “Inception.”

Colin Firth is considered the likely winner for best dramatic actor for “The King’s Speech,” in which he plays Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI, amid his struggle to overcome a debilitating stammer.

Mr. Firth’s competition includes “The Social Network” star Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Internet innovator Mark Zuckerberg as he founds Facebook and then falls into legal tussles with former associates over the website’s riches.

While Mr. Firth also is the front-runner for best actor at the Academy Awards on Feb. 27, the best-actress Oscar race could be a tossup between two Globe favorites. Natalie Portman has the edge for Globe dramatic actress as a ballerina coming unhinged in “Black Swan,” while Annette Bening is the probable winner for best actress in a musical or comedy for her role as a stern but loving lesbian mom in “The Kids Are All Right.”

The Globes ceremony also features such heavyweight nominees as Mark Wahlberg, Halle Berry and Nicole Kidman in the dramatic acting categories and Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and Anne Hathaway in the musical or comedy ranks.

Robert De Niro will receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award for career achievement.

Ricky Gervais returns as Globes host for the second straight year. He has joked that he did not go far enough on last year’s show but that he would push the limits this time.

He has plenty of comedic fodder among the nominees, which include Mr. Depp and Miss Jolie’s “The Tourist” and Christina Aguilera’s “Burlesque.” Both films were drubbed by critics but received Globe nominations.

“I’m going to go out there, guns blazing, like it’s the end of the world,” Mr. Gervais said.

The ceremony traditionally had a strong track record as a forecast for what film would win best picture at the Oscars. The two shows have split in recent times, however, with only one top Globe recipient — 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire” — also winning the main prize at the Oscars over the past six years.

A year ago, the sci-fi sensation “Avatar” won best drama at the Globes, but the Iraq War saga “The Hurt Locker” took best picture at the Oscars.

Nominations voting for the Feb. 27 Oscars closed Friday, and nominees will be announced Jan. 25.

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