By Paul Sheehan, executive editor of Gold Derby

Just 10 days ago, 'The King's Speech' looked like it would have to abdicate its hope of reigning on Oscar night. It had won no major Best Picture awards. 'The Social Network' was undefeated, from the National Board of Review through the film-critics awards and on to the Golden Globes. And now 'The King's Speech' is considered the front-runner. What happened?

'The King's Speech' staged a palace coup at the guild awards, winning Best Ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild on Sunday night, Best Director at the Directors Guild of America on Saturday night and Best Picture at the Producers Guild of America last week. How did it pull off this sweep?

The answer has to do with the nature of the two types of awards. Virtually all of the trophies won by 'The Social Network' were bestowed by journalists, who notoriously love hip movies with a message and attitude. No sentimentality allowed.
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Sometimes, when such films sail through these early awards, they succeed at the Oscars, like 'The Hurt Locker' and 'No Country for Old Men.' When they don't, there tends to be a movie with a big, bursting heart that gets embraced by a group of people usually accused of having no heart themselves: Hollywood industry insiders.

Consider what happened in the 1998 Oscar race when 'Saving Private Ryan' conquered almost all of the early awards: the New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Golden Globes. The only two prizes it lost along the way were the National Board of Review ('Gods and Monsters') and the National Society of Film Critics ('Out of Sight'). On Oscar night, it was considered to be the heavy favorite, but –- surprise! –- it was upset by 'Shakespeare in Love.'

Oscar-watchers really shouldn't have been so shocked, considering what had happened just one year earlier. 'L.A. Confidential' had sailed through most of the early awards, but then slammed into an iceberg heading into Oscar waters. 'Titanic' was mocked by many cynical film critics for its unabashed romanticism (hearing Celine Dion croon 'My Heart Will Go On' made them particularly apoplectic), but it not only ended up winning Best Picture, it tied 'Ben-Hur''s record for highest Oscar tally ever (11).

'The King's Speech' is the same kind of unapologetic weepie, being the tale of a reluctant king of England who may seem all-powerful but isn't even the master of his own voice. Surprisingly, it's received good reviews from the cynical press, but, of course, it has its bashers –- like Ty Burr of the Boston Globe who ridicules it as "complacent middlebrow tosh engineered for maximum awards bling and catering to a nostalgia for the royalty we've never actually had to live with."

'The King's Speech,' though, will get the last word on Oscar night.
The King's Speech
R 2010
Based on 41 critics

An Australian actor tries to help Britain's King George VI overcome a speech impediment. Read More

The Social Network
PG-13 2010
Based on 42 critics

Legal and personal complications follow the founding of popular website Facebook. Read More

categories Hot Topic, Oscars, Awards, Columns