BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Queen Elizabeth II's dad, Albert — the gentle, stammering Duke of York — never was meant to be king. And from Hollywood's early honors this season, a drama based on his life never seemed destined as heir-apparent at the Academy Awards.
Yet "The King's Speech" took a step closer to the best-picture crown Tuesday, leading the Oscars with 12 nominations and gaining momentum against the online chronicle "The Social Network," which had previously ruled the awards season.
Hollywood's top prize on Feb. 27 now seems like a two-picture duel between stories about a monarch who lives in terror of a 1930s tool of mass communication — the radio microphone — and a college kid who helped define the Internet era by inventing Facebook.
Also nominated for best picture are the Western "True Grit," second with 10 total nominations; the psychosexual thriller "Black Swan"; the boxing drama "The Fighter"; the sci-fi blockbuster "Inception"; the lesbian-family tale "The Kids Are All Right"; the survival story "127 Hours"; the animated smash "Toy Story 3"; and the Ozarks crime thriller "Winter's Bone."
"The King's Speech" is a pageant in the truest Oscar sense, with pomp, ceremony and history like past best-picture winners "The Last Emperor," ''Lawrence of Arabia," ''A Man for All Seasons" and "Shakespeare in Love."
It's also an intimate, personal tale of love and kinship as royal Albert (best-actor front-runner Colin Firth) is buoyed by the devotion of his wife (supporting-actress nominee Helena Bonham Carter) and makes an unlikely friend out of a commoner, his wily speech therapist (supporting-actor contender Geoffrey Rush).
"It's a very, very human story. After all, how many of us are so blessed that we go through life without having to overcome some kind of personal obstacle?" said "The King's Speech" writer David Seidler, who grew up with a stammer himself and earned a nomination for original screenplay.
Seidler said young people who were reluctant to see a historical film "end up absolutely loving it and wanting to see it again, because they understand the emotions of being teased, being bullied, being marginalized, and they really understand the power of a supportive friendship."
Meantime, "The Social Network" seems like a film completely in the here and now as Harvard computer genius Mark Zuckerberg (best-actor nominee Jesse Eisenberg) reinvents the art of keeping in touch with the viral growth of Facebook, whose half a billion users stay connected with friends online.
But the motivations at the core of the film are ancient as Zuckerberg battles old friends and associates over the Web site's riches.
"It is a timeless story, one with themes as old as storytelling itself: of friendship and loyalty, of betrayal, power, class, jealousy," said Aaron Sorkin, a nominee for adapted screenplay for "The Social Network." ''These are things that Aeschylus would have written about or Shakespeare would have written about. And it's just lucky for me that neither of those guys were available, so I got to write about it."
Along with Firth, other acting favorites claimed Oscar slots, including Christian Bale as a former boxer whose career unravels amid drugs and crime in "The Fighter."
The best-actress field shapes up as a two-woman race between Natalie Portman as a ballerina losing her grip on reality in "Black Swan" and Annette Bening as a lesbian mom in "The Kids Are All Right."
Firth, Bale, Portman and Bening all won Golden Globes for their performances.
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