"The Social Network" may have landed the first, cough, "critic's" group award by winning the top prize from the National Board of Review on Thursday, but most Oscar experts know that's hardly a universal barometer of a best picture winner.  Instead, the polling from Movie City News' long running Gurus of Gold (which includes this pundit) still finds Tom Hooper's period drama "The King's Speech" as the frontrunner for yet another week.

"Speech" earned that designation afters its critically and audience praised debut at Toronto in September and the limited Thanksgiving box office lived up to the hype.  Over the next month or so, The Weinstein Company has to transform that limited love to nationwide adoration to seal the deal with Academy voters.  It's really that simple.  More intriguing than "Network" is the possibilities of "Inception" and "True Grit" becoming spoilers in the race.  Let's just use the old cliche, "anything's possible" shall we?

In the meantime, here's the latest award season rankings from Awards Campaign along with the Gurus pick and some insider analysis.

BEST PICTURE

1. "The King's Speech"
2. "The Social Network"
3. "Inception"
4. "True Grit"
5. "Toy Story 3"
6. "Black Swan"
7. "The Fighter"
8. "The Kids Are All Right"
9. "Rabbit Hole"
10. "The Town"

Close: "127 Hours," "Another Year"
Gurus Pick: "The King's Speech"
Lowdown: There is still much skepticism among the pundits that "Network" can win, but more than critic's kudos, "Speech" will still need to impress at the box office to keep its front runner status.  And as previously noted, I also believe "Inception" and "Grit" have a chance to overtake both, but it's cetainly a long shot at this point.

BEST DIRECTOR

1. David Fincher, "The Social Network"
2. Christopher Nolan, "Inception"
3. Darren Aronofsky, "The Black Swan"
4. Joel and Ethan Coen, "True Grit"
5. Tom Hooper, "The King's Speech"

Close: Lisa Chodolenko, "The Kids Are All Right," Danny Boyle, "127 Hours," David O. Russsell, "The Fighter"
Gurus Pick: David Fincher
Lowdown: It would be hard to see the Academy not rewarding Fincher who is perceived as being more "due" than Nolan at this point (which is a bit ridiculous when you really stop and think about it).  The "Network" helmer will probably also lock down most of the critic's awards this season which would easily solidify his perceived "lead" in the category.

BEST ACTOR

1. Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
2. Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"
3. James Franco, "127 Hours"
4. Aaron Eckhart, "Rabbit Hole"
5. Jesse Eisenberg, "

Close: Robert Duvall, "Get Low" and Ryan Gosling, "Blue Valentine"
Gurus Pick: Colin Firth
Lowdown: Many feel "127 Hours'" box office hasn't lived up to expectations and that could derail any thought that new Oscar co-host Franco has of upsetting Firth.  Now, if Bridges' were to win back to back over Firth?  Now, that's just wouldn't be fair...would it?

BEST ACTRESS

1. Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
2. Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
3. Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"
4. Leslie Manville, "Another Year"
5. Tilda Swinton, "I Am Love"

Close: Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine," Jennifer Lawrence, "Winer's Bone"
Gurus Pick: Annette Bening
Lowdown: The Gurus very close vote shows Bening is not a solid favorite anymore.  In fact, we may have little clue here until the SAG Awards' winners are announced in January.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

1. Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech"
2. Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"
3. Diane Wiest, "Rabbit Hole"
4. Amy Adams, "The Fighter"
5. Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"

Close:
Barbara Hershey, "Black Swan"
Gurus Pick: Helena Bonham Carter
Lowdown: Interesting field with no solid favorite except another "due" leader in Carter.  Paramount is going to campaign Steinfeld for supporting because its seen as an easier nomination even though it's pretty clear she's the leading actress throughout "True Grit."  Like Kate Winslet and "The Reader" two years ago, Academy members may see right through that and put her in best actress instead (or neither).  One of the possible "surprises" to look for on nomination Tuesday.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

1. Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech"
2. Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
3. Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"
4. Andrew Garfield, "Social Network"
5. Sam Rockwell, "Conviction"

Close: Matt Damon, "True Grit"
Gurus Pick: Geoffrey Rush
Lowdown: This is another close category and it really feels like a pick 'em between Rush and Bale.  However, if Bale wins every critic's award out there?  Completely different story, but I don't expect that to occur.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY*
1. "Inception"
2. "The King's Speech"
3. "The Kid's Are All Right"
4. "Another Year"
5. "Black Swan"

Close: "Black Swan," "The Fighter"
Gurus Pick: "The King's Speech"
Lowdown:  Gurus have "Speech" here, but I think Nolan's complex thriller is going to be too hard to turn down for the WGA and that will help fuel an Oscar win.

*Updated because of brain fart over "Winter's Bone" which is in adapted. Sadly, I wasn't the only educated Oscar pundit who made that mistake this week.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

1. "The Social Network"
2. "True Grit"
3. "Rabbit Hole"
4. "The Town"
5. "Toy Story 3"

Close: "Winter's Bone," "127 Hours"
Gurus Pick: "The Social Network"
Lowdown:  Probably the biggest lock of Oscar night.  Aaron Sorkin has been a respected mainstay in the business for years and you can't argue his winning.  Yes, he's 2011's Jennifer Hudson in the best adapted screenplay category.  Book it.

Agree or disagree?  Share your thoughts below.
 

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