MSNBC’s Oscar Red Carpet coverage follows:
HOLLYWOOD — Hollywood held its breath Sunday ahead of the Academy Awards, the climax of its annual prizes season, with British royal drama “The King’s Speech” the frontrunner to be crowned with Oscars glory.
But Facebook movie “The Social Network” hopes it could yet dethrone the British film, nominated in 12 categories including best picture and best actor, which is widely expected to go to Colin Firth.
Ballet thriller “Black Swan” is also among a clutch of films hoping for one of the prestigious golden statuettes, with Natalie Portman in the lead for the best actress Oscar.
With only hours to go before the annual awards mega-bash, starting at 5:00 pm (0100 GMT Sunday), stars were fine-tuning their acceptance speeches and preparing to don their gowns and tuxedos for the Oscars red carpet.
Hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway — in a bid to attract a younger audience — the show is expected to include music by Randy Newman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Britain’s Florence Welch.
Despite anticipation building for “The King’s Speech,” no one is taking anything for granted as rivals like Western remake “True Grit,” powerful boxing movie “The Fighter” and hi-tech thriller “Inception” vie for awards.
The 10-strong shortlist for best film also includes “127 Hours” — about a hiker forced to amputate his own arm, lesbian parenting movie “The Kids Are All Right” and “Toy Story 3,” strongly tipped to win best animated feature.
Firth is considered a shoo-in to be named best actor for his portrayal of Britain’s King George VI, who overcome his crippling stammer with the help of eccentric Australian voice coach Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush.
He is up against Jeff Bridges — who beat Firth to the best actor Oscar last year — in “True Grit,” Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network,” James Franco in “127 Hours” and Spanish heart-throb Javier Bardem in “Biutiful.”
Portman’s rivals for best actress are veteran Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right,” Australia’s Nicole Kidman for “Rabbit Hole,” Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone” and Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine.”
Film legend Elizabeth Taylor, watching from hospital where she was recovering from a heart scare, hoped for British success on her 79th birthday.
“She plans to watch the Academy Awards with family and close friends and will be rooting for ‘The King’s Speech,'” said a spokesman for the Oscar-winning British-born star.
But some critics believe David Fincher could well be named best director for “The Social Network,” which tells the story of how Mark Zuckerberg created the game-changing website Facebook from a controversial start while a Harvard student.
“The Social Network” started the awards season as favorite, taking four Golden Globes in January, but “The King’s Speech” has since gathered up a series of prizes and had the momentum going into Sunday’s Oscars climax.
“The King’s Speech” got another boost on the eve of Oscars, winning best foreign film for the Spirit independent movie awards — it was not eligible for the main prize, taken by “Black Swan,” which won four Spirits.
Others hoping for Oscars gold include elusive British graffiti artist Banksy, whose film “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is nominated for best documentary. The movie won best documentary prize at Saturday’s Spirits.
Best foreign film is between Mexico’s “Biutiful,” “Dogtooth” from Greece, Denmark’s “In a Better World,” “Incendies” from Canada and Algeria’s “Outside the Law.”
Also on Saturday, the winners of the annual Golden Raspberries, or Razzies, for worst movies of 2010 were announced.
Martial arts fantasy flick “The Last Airbender” took the Razzie for worst movie, director, screenplay, supporting actor and Eye-Gouging Mis-Use of 3D, while “Sex and the City 2” won a collective worst actress for its four stars.
The Oscars weekend also provides an excuse for endless festivities, ranging from Elton John’s traditional bash in west Hollywood to one reportedly co-hosted by Madonna and Demi Moore.
Once the big show is over, the real fun starts. Oscars after-parties and after-after-parties go on well into Monday, before Hollywood finally crashes and has to recover from its annual awards season binge.