Think back, far back into the days of early September, when The Social Network was first released. The risky movie, which many critics predicted would be much too current and close to audiences’ lives to be taken seriously, was met with resounding praise and huge box office success. Critics were fast to assume that it would garner an Academy Award Best Picture nomination come January, but a win?

Fast Forward to January 2011. That win is almost a sure thing. Or is it?

The Academy Awards Best Picture race seems to be developing a new trend since the increase of nominations from five pictures to ten. The Best Picture race used to contain an almost clear cut winner (as in 2008’s race with Slumdog Millionaire), only to be shaken up once in a while with surprise upsets (such as when Crash beat out favorite Brokeback Mountain in 2006). With ten pictures in the race though, the category seems to be developing into a two-picture race. Avatar and The Hurt Locker dominated this race last year, and The Social Network and The King’s Speech are the two pictures who are uncontested as having the highest chance for a win. The chances for The King’s Speech to take home the ultimate prize, though, has seemed smaller and smaller since Hollywood’s award season began.

The Social Network has swept the major awards leading up to the Oscars in a streak that has not been seen since Slumdog Millionaire’s domination in the 2009 season. The film has taken home Best Picture awards in both the Golden Globes and the Critic’s Choice Award. The King’s Speech, which is getting much Best Actor love for Colin Firth, has yet to receive a Best Picture award. Unlike last year’s true two-picture race, in which Avatar and The Hurt Locker split critics and awards alike, with Avatar winning the Golden Globe and The Hurt Locker winning the Critic’s Choice, there has been no such split with Network and Speech.

The King’s Speech has recently gained new momentum, though, after being awarded the Producers Guild Award for Best Picture in an upset over Network. The PGA award is a major forecaster for what’s to come at the Oscars. It uses the same preferential ballot voting system as the Academy does, and has given the prestigious award to the eventual Academy Award winner for the past three years (to No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Hurt Locker). The surprise win for Speech will give the film a huge boost come Oscar Sunday that it has desperately needed in an otherwise dry award season. The King’s Speech also received another boost on Tuesday morning when it captured a leading 12 nominations.

Some Speech fans are holding out hope that Academy voters will show it favor, as they have been prone to do with films in the past. British films Slumdog Millionaire, Shakespeare in Love (1998), and The English Patient (1996) got major love from the Academy, sweeping a number of major awards in their respective years. But unlike Speech, they had also all swept the Best Picture categories in countless other ceremonies. Also, the Academy show has shown much less love recently for period pieces such as Speech. Recent winners in the past ten years, such as Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, and Crash (2006), have all been much grittier, contemporary movies dealing with current issues in the world’s society. The Social Network, which deals with the creation and success of Facebook, fits well with this new trend.

Of course, The Social Network has not been without some criticism, which may deter some Academy voters. The film has been accused by some critics, including Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” issue, which wrote a profile on Mark Zuckerberg, as being a vastly fictional and glamorized portrayal of Facebook’s founding and an especially harsh depiction of creator Zuckerberg. The film has been able to brush off most criticisms though due to its well-respected director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who are also considered to be possible lock-ins for their respective categories come Oscar night.

But if the Academy Awards has shown us anything, it’s that anything can happen. The King’s Speech is sure to gain some momentum if and when it wins the BAFTA Best Picture award, and there are still the SAG Awards, although The Fighter is favored to win the major award of the night, the Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture Award. Although the SAG Awards gave the only pre-indication of the Crash upset in 2006, they do not have a track record for predicting Oscar Best Picture winners (last year’s winner, Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, went home empty handed on Oscar night with the exception of a Best Supporting Actor award). Thus, even if The Fighter takes home the prize on January 30, the Academy Award race still seems to be The Social Network or The King’s Speech to lose.

So don’t count out The King’s Speech just yet as you begin to contemplate your ballot for your office’s notorious Oscar party, the stuttering king may just have his day of glory after all.

By Anneta Konstantinides