Feb. 25 (Bloomberg) -- “The King’s Speech” and leading man Colin Firth are overwhelming favorites to win top Oscars when the Academy Awards are announced on Feb. 27, extending four years of dominance by smaller-budget films.
The Weinstein Co. movie has an 81 percent chance of capturing the best-picture Oscar, Hollywood’s highest honor, according to odds-maker Intrade.com. Firth’s best-actor prospects are even better at 96 percent, according to the Dublin-based Web site. The race for best director is closer.
“The King’s Speech” became the best-picture frontrunner, eclipsing “The Social Network,” after Hollywood guilds representing directors, actors and producers all gave the movie their top honors. The story, about Britain’s King George VI and the unorthodox speech therapist who helped him deliver an important World War II radio address, resonated with audiences.
“‘The King’s Speech’ has heart,” said Tom O’Neil, who lists the film as a 71 percent favorite on Goldderby.com, a site that compiles critics’ predictions. “They’re embracing the heart of this movie.”
“The Social Network,” from Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures, is second in various rankings, with the best odds, 40 percent, coming from Johnny Avello, executive director of racing & sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas, part of Wynn Resorts Ltd.
The film about Facebook Inc. and founder Mark Zuckerberg was named best film by critics groups, including the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Guilds are more likely to include motion picture academy members who vote in the Oscar races, said O’Neil.
Both movies won at the box office. “The King’s Speech,” made for $15 million, has generated $236.9 million in worldwide ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo, an industry website owned Amazon.com Inc. “The Social Network,” with a $40 million production budget, has worldwide sales of $221 million.
Ticket sales for all 10 of this year’s best-picture nominees have exceeded their production budgets, according to Box Office Mojo. The 83rd Academy Awards will air live on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC TV network, with the ceremony scheduled to start at 8 p.m. New York time.
Among the major awards categories, one of the closest races is for best director. David Fincher, who directed “The Social Network,” leads the category with a 60 percent chance on Intrade.com and 50 percent from Ladbrokes. Intrade puts Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech” in second at 38 percent.
The other contenders, Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan,” David O. Russell for “The Fighter” and “True Grit” directors Joel and Ethan Coen, are long shots based on the sites.
$1 Million Wagered
The popularity of numerous best-picture nominees may be generating greater interest among bettors, Intrade Chief Executive Officer John Delaney said in an interview. Hits on the Web site’s Oscar categories are up 300 percent from a year earlier, when “The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar” led the wagering, he said.
“It’s a very strong endorsement as to what our traders, our real-money traders, think is going to happen,” Delaney said. About $1 million has been wagered, he said.
The other best-picture nominees include “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “127 Hours,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit” and “Winter’s Bone.”
“The King’s Speech,” co-starring Geoffrey Rush as therapist Lionel Logue, is among six independent films in the best-picture category. Smaller-budget movies have won best picture since the drama “The Departed” took the award at the 2007 telecast.
“The King’s Speech” is given an 86 percent chance of winning by Ladbrokes Plc, the U.K.-based bookmaker. Firth is a 98 percent favorite to win best actor. Avello gives the movie a 75 percent chance. He puts Firth’s chances at 89 percent.
Firth’s rivals for best actor are: Jesse Eisenberg for his portrayal of Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” Jeff Bridges for “True Grit,” Javier Bardem for “Biutiful,” and James Franco for “127 Hours,” director Danny Boyle’s film about a young hiker who amputates his own arm after being trapped in a Utah canyon.
For best actress, Natalie Portman is the 88 percent favorite to win for her role as the troubled ballerina in “Black Swan,” according to Intrade. Annette Bening is second for “The Kids Are All Right,” followed by Michelle Williams for “Blue Valentine,” Jennifer Lawrence for “Winter’s Bone” and Nicole Kidman for “Rabbit Hole.”
“The Social Network,” adapted for the screen by “The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin, focuses on legal and personal disputes among the young founders of Facebook, the social-networking company. Sorkin and director Fincher are nominated for Oscars, in addition to Eisenberg.
“The Social Network,” set in college classrooms and dorms, may not resonate with older academy members, O’Neil said.
“It’s a cold movie,” O’Neil said. “There are no heroes in ‘The Social Network.’ There’s no one to root for. It’s always important to have a rooting factor.”
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