It was a big day for kings and commoners.
"The King's Speech," which is almost a perfect combination of Oscar-baiting ingredients -- period setting, handicapped hero, supportive wife -- swept Tuesday's Oscar nominations, scoring in 12 categories.
Hot on its trail was Joel and Ethan Coen's homespun western, "True Grit," nominated in 10 categories. The nominations shaped up as a showdown between the English and American entries. The films are rivals for best picture, Colin Firth and Jeff Bridges are in a face-off for best actor, Helena Bonham Carter and Hailee Steinfeld are supporting-actress rivals. The Coen brothers are in a race against Tom Hooper as director.
The Coens' showing improves on their earlier raft of nominations for their 2008 best picture winner, "No Country for Old Men," which was tapped in eight categories. As then, the brothers are triple nominees as the film's co-producers, co-writers and co-directors. If they win all those competitions again this year, as they did for "No Country," there could be a run on Oscar statuettes as they claim two in each category.
"The Social Network," best-picture winner at the Golden Globes, and "Inception" followed the front-runners with eight nominations apiece, while "The Fighter" brought in seven.
All five of the top nominees will compete for best picture at the Oscars Feb. 27, along with "Black Swan," "The Kids Are All Right," "127 Hours," "Toy Story 3" and "Winter's Bone."
Conventional wisdom dominated the nominations, with few bombshell surprises. Christopher Nolan was conspicuously absent from the ranks of directing nominees, though few films could claim to be so pure a reflection of their creator's vision as his mind-bending "Inception." Also, director Danny Boyle, who won an Oscar in 2009 for "Slumdog Millionaire," was snubbed for "127 Hours."
Javier Bardem, a supporting-actor winner for "No Country," earned the first best-actor nod awarded to a Spanish-language performance in Mexico's best foreign film entry, "Biutiful."
"Winter's Bone," an uncompromising indie tale of backwoods crime, was honored with nominations for best picture, adapted screenplay, actress for 21-year-old first-time nominee Jennifer Lawrence and supporting actor for John Hawkes, who was born and raised in Alexandria, Minn.
Another indie crime thriller, Australia's "Animal Kingdom," won a supporting nod for little-known actress Jacki Weaver.
Youth and popularity were well served in Tuesday's selections. "True Grit's" 14-year-old star Steinfeld was considered a strong contender in either the best actress or supporting-actress divisions; ultimately she landed in the latter category.
Jesse Eisenberg, 27, and James Franco, 32 (who will co-host the Oscars with Anne Hathaway) received best actor nods for portraying Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network" and unlucky hiker Aron Ralston in "127 Hours," respectively.
Notably missing from the performance list: Ryan Gosling for "Blue Valentine," Andrew Garfield for "The Social Network," Mark Wahlberg for "The Fighter," Mila Kunis for "Black Swan" and Julianne Moore for "The Kids Are All Right."
In the mix
The best-picture race is a mix of big commercial hits and smaller critical darlings, which is what academy organizers wanted when they expanded the competition to 10 films.
Like "Toy Story 3," "Inception" is a blockbuster, coming from director Nolan, whose "The Dark Knight" missed out on a best-picture nomination two years ago -- a snub that led to the decision to double the number of contenders, so acclaimed popular movies would have a better chance.
"True Grit" is the first $100 million western hit since the 1990s, "The Social Network" sold about $95 million in tickets, and "Black Swan" is closing in on $100 million. At the other end are "Winter's Bone" with $6.3 million and "127 Hours" with $11 million, respectable returns for lower-budgeted independent films but small change next to big studio productions.
This story includes information from the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186