Nowadays it’s easier to see the Oscar ceremony not for the glitz and the glam but  as a sporting event.  There are personal favorites that I consistently root for, like movies with actress Helen Mirren in them. Then there are my personal villains like Gwyneth Paltrow and shot-for-shot film remakes. While it always hurts a little when my favorites lose, the pain always fades away before next season.

This year’s Oscars look to be especially interesting as the film “The King’s Speech” is leading off with 12 nominations and is one of the favorites for Best Picture. It does face some fierce competition from films like the intricately skewed “Black Swan” and the neo-Western “True Grit.” Yet, a strong performance from Colin Firth (“Mama Mia”) and the intricate world aided by director Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”) makes this an easy win. The animation stalwart Pixar (“Wall-E,” “UP”) is trying make history by getting “Toy Story 3” nominated for Best Picture, but it’s chances to win are nil. The popular summer hit “Inception,” like Ben Aflleck’s “The Town,” has been widely ignored in most of the other categories, which is historically not a good sign for it’s chances.

In the running for Best Director are some of the most talented people in the industry today. Darren Aronofsky (“The Fountain,” “The Wrestler”), who is known for very visually intense and mentally assertive films, leads most Oscar predictions with “Black Swan,” but his invasive and surreal style leaves a sour taste by the end of the flick. David Fincher is back after failing to win the award in 2009 for his film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” He has a real shot this year with “The Social Network.” Multiple Oscar winners Joel and Ethan Coen attempt to win their second directing award with the adept retelling of the classic Western film “True Grit” and are my personal favorite to win.

Best Actor nominations run the gambit from Jesse Eisenberg who breaks out of his standard befuddled and nerdy roles and takes control of “The Social Network,” to Javiar Bardem, who is heartbreaking as a man in need of personal redemption in the Spanish drama “Biutiful.” Jeff Bridges is being talked about as the most likely to pick up the award that John Wayne won previously for the same role in “True Grit;” my money is on Colin Firth for his role as the King of England who suffers from a debilitating speech impediment in “The King’s Speech.”

Although there are many very good actresses within the “Best Actress” category, Natalie Portman had the best overall performance in “Black Swan.” Portman plays a ballerina in the midst of a fight for the lead and then, not to spoil what happens, things get weird. She, with the assistance of Darren Aronofsky, leads the audience down the musty hallway of insanity and leaves them there until the end. The performance is so great you’ll find yourself questioning what you are seeing through her eyes and your own sanity.

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