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The 83d Academy Awards | The winners

‘The King’s Speech’ rules

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / February 28, 2011

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“The King’s Speech,’’ a historical drama that inspired and moved audiences and became an unlikely box-office hit, dominated the Academy Awards last night, winning the Oscar for best picture of 2010 and three other awards. The film’s star, Colin Firth, won the best acting Oscar for his portrayal of King George VI of England, a monarch struggling to overcome a stutter and rise to the challenges of the throne during the pre-WWII era. The film’s maker, Tom Hooper, won the best directing award.

“Being a part of a film that has touched so many people around the world is a huge privilege,’’ said Emile Sherman, one of the producers of “The King’s Speech,’’ as the movie’s exultant creators took the stage to celebrate. The wins underscored the unmistakable appeal of a well-crafted, old-fashioned audience pleaser in a year in which many of the nominees represented a new generation of edgy filmmakers and unconventional narratives.

Of the other major contenders, only Natalie Portman outran the “King’s Speech’’ steamroller, winning best actress for her depiction of a psychologically fragile ballerina in “Black Swan.’’ The 29-year-old actress, pregnant by her fiance and choreographer on the film, Benjamin Millepied, accepted the Oscar with thanks to her parents, fellow nominees, and fellow ballerinas.

“I’m afraid I have to warn you I’m having stirrings that may form themselves into dance moves,’’ Firth noted upon accepting his award; this is apparently how the English express joy. Among others, the actor thanked Tom Ford, the fashion designer and director of last year’s “A Single Man,’’ for which Firth was nominated but did not win, a loss that arguably provided further momentum to his Oscar success this year.

Beyond the “Speech’’ triumph, it was a Bay State night at the Oscars, as actors Christian Bale and Melissa Leo took home supporting acting awards for their unvarnished portrayals of Lowell residents in “The Fighter,’’ a film about local boxing legend Micky Ward. The 83d annual Academy Awards saw a historic number of Massachusetts-area stories and talent up for awards, but the acting nominations for “Fighter’’ were among the most heavily favored by insiders to win and probably the most satisfying for local moviegoers.

In addition, “The Social Network,’’ a multi-stranded drama about the fractious founding of the social network website Facebook and a film partially set in the dorms and corridors of Harvard, won awards for editing, score, and adapted screenplay for Aaron Sorkin’s hyperverbose script. “This movie is going to be a source of pride for me for the rest of my life,’’ Sorkin exulted after winning the award.

Bale, wearing a scraggly beard and a thick British accent that may have come as a surprise to those who bought into his playing of Ward’s half-brother and trainer Dicky Eklund, bounded to the stage to collect his Oscar and give a shout-out to Ward and Eklund in the audience. “[Dicky’s] had a wonderful story and I can’t wait to see the next chapter,’’ Bale said.

There had been speculation as to whether Leo had squandered her good will with Academy voters by taking out ads in film industry trade papers featuring the plainspoken actress glammed up in evening gowns, a publicity move some derided as in poor taste. In the end, she won the award for her portrayal of Ward’s manager-mother, and took the stage to give an emotional — and at one point bleeped — acceptance speech.

“The King’s Speech’’ was considered by many to be the front-runner for the best picture Oscar, but by the evening’s midpoint, it had received only one award, for David Seidler’s original screenplay. The win was nevertheless one of the evening’s most emotionally satisfying, as the 73-year-old writer — who had spent three decades trying to get his vision to the screen — happily noted “My father said to me I would be a late bloomer.’’

Tradition was also served with the Academy Awards given to Rick Baker for best makeup — his seventh Oscar — for “The Wolfman’’ and to Colleen Atwood for her “Alice in Wonderland’’ costumes, her third win in that category. Randy Newman performed “We Belong Together,’’ the “Toy Story 3’’ song that represented the singer’s 20th Academy Award nomination. Shortly thereafter, it became his second win. “I’ve been on this show any number of times, and I’ve slowed it down every time,’’ the much-loved Newman cracked.

Despite those awards — and despite the 12 nominations for “The King’s Speech’’ — both the films spotlighted by the Academy this year and the ceremonies themselves represented a rare generational shift in Hollywood. Movies like “The Social Network,’’ “Black Swan,’’ “The Fighter,’’ “Inception,’’ and “127 Hours’’ starred a wave of young talent and were made by directors who had often worked at odds with the mainstream in earlier years.

A number of the awards reflected the new energy. For the first time since 1987’s “The Last Emperor,’’ rock ’n’ roll outsiders took the best original score Oscar from the insider’s club of professional scorers when the former Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won for their propulsive music for “The Social Network.’’

The choice of Anne Hathaway and James Franco, two young, attractive movie stars to host the ceremonies, served notice that the Academy and the telecast’s producers wanted to honor the new generation and attract new viewers. And the audience in the Kodak Theatre was lacking in the traditional star-wattage: No George Clooney, no Will Smith, no Brangelina, and when longtime host Billy Crystal took the stage to honor longer-time host Bob Hope, it felt like a blast from the far distant past. The final proof of Oscar’s calculated youth wave? The Autotune musical-montage parody, a moment as YouTube-ready as the night got.

“Toy Story 3,’’ the final chapter in Pixar’s beloved trilogy of family comedies, was nominated for best picture, only the third animated film to be so honored. As expected, it won best animated feature early in the evening, and few expected it to take the evening’s top prize. The best documentary feature award went to Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job,’’ a scathing examination of the 2008 financial meltdown and the Wall Street greed that brought it about. Accepting the award, the director noted that in the years since the collapse, “not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.’’ Danish director Susanne Bier accepted the Oscar for foreign language film for her dramatic study of evil and moral responsibility, “In a Better World.’’

“Inception,’’ a massively popular summer hit about a heist team that invades people’s dreams, was overlooked in some key categories — Christopher Nolan wasn’t nominated for best director and none of the cast received nods — and at first looked to fare poorly even in the categories for which it was in the running. The evening’s first award, for best art direction, went to the colorful landscapes of “Alice in Wonderland,’’ but the second went to “Inception’’ cinematographer Wally Pfister, who thanked his “master’’ Nolan. The film also picked up Oscars for best sound mixing, sound editing, and visual effects. In fact, it tied with “The King’s Speech’’ for the most Oscars won during the night.

The ceremony regularly looked back to Hollywood’s past, with brief segments devoted to “Gone With the Wind’’ and other classics, and a 94-year-old Kirk Douglas was brought out to flirt with Hathaway and award the best supporting actress trophy, after much comic stalling, to Leo. The feeling, apparently, was mutual. “You’re pretty good-looking yourself; what are you doing later on?’’ Leo joked as she accepted her award.

In the end, old-fashioned filmmaking and story-telling values won the night. Despite predictions that “Social Network’’ helmer Fincher had the best directing Oscar in the bag, Academy voters saw fit to give the award to Hooper and “The King’s Speech,’’ cementing yet another Academy triumph for English storytelling and storytellers. For all the brash American movies on display, the message of this year’s Oscars was that, once again, the British are coming.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.