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Indie film ‘Winter’s Bone’ adds twist in Oscars mix

We expected to see “The King’s Speech,” “True Grit” and “The Social Network” contending for Oscar gold.

But who would have thought that the indie feature “Winter’s Bone” would be competing not only for best picture, but for actress (Jennifer Lawrence), supporting actor (John Hawkes) and screenplay adaptation?

Could “Bone” be this year’s “The Hurt Locker”? Last year that Iraq war drama had a minuscule profile until it received a slew of nominations. Once Oscar voters finally saw the film, they were impressed enough to give it the year’s top honor.

That pie-in-the-sky scenario may not materialize for “Winter’s Bone.” Nevertheless, the emergence of the “hillbilly noir” thriller (based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell) as a genuine contender is one of the few real surprises of this year’s Academy Awards nominations, announced Tuesday.

It’s too early in the melee for most serious handicapping. Still, here are some thoughts on how things are shaking out:

Acting

Among actors, it’s still Colin Firth’s race to lose for “The King’s Speech.” He was terrific last year in “A Single Man” but lost to Jeff Bridges, who won for “Crazy Heart” and is now up for “True Grit.” This year expect the opposite to occur.

Javier Bardem (“Biutiful”) is always terrific, and “The Social Network’s” Jesse Eisenberg was perfect as a geek-as-Godzilla.

But if Firth loses, I hope it’s to James Franco’s trapped hiker in “127 Hours.” In a one-character movie Franco grabbed and held us.

Natalie Portman’s stranglehold on best actress for “Black Swan” looks solid. The big question is whether Oscar will go with youth or honor a career of good work (Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”).

It’s an interesting situation for supporting actress, with Amy Adams and Golden Globe winner Melissa Leo competing against each other for “The Fighter.”

Statistically, same-movie actresses cancel each other out two-thirds of the time. Might that open things up for “True Grit’s” young Hailee Steinfeld? (It was pretty clearly a lead role, but Oscar rules are fuzzy on that point.)

Supporting actor belongs to “The Fighter’s” Christian Bale, though in the event of a “King’s Speech” sweep, Geoffrey Rush might sneak in.

Director

A very tough call. It boils down to a three-way race between Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”), David Fincher (“The Social Network”) and “True Grit” (Joel and Ethan Coen).

Hooper is the safe choice; it was a conventional, comforting, well-directed effort. Fincher made a talkfest brilliantly cinematic.

And the Coens, who imbue everything they do with their signature sardonic wit, are longtime academy favorites (“Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men”).

This one’s still up for grabs.

Writing

The original screenplay category has plenty going on.

This might be the only “prestige” Oscar that “Inception” and Christopher Nolan win. But “Inception” faces fierce competition from “The Fighter” and “The Kids Are All Right” and especially “The King’s Speech,” for which writer David Seidler had to wait decades (until the Queen Mum died) to put into production.

The front-runner for adapted screenplay is Aaron Sorkin for “The Social Network.”

Animated feature

“Toy Story 3.” “Toy Story 3.” “Toy Story 3.”

Technical categories

I have a sneaky feeling that “Inception,” which will be skunked in the “big” races, could do quite nicely in the competitions for art direction, cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects – sort of consolation prizes.

But keep tabs on the Hollywood gossip over the next month. If any one film starts to look like a “sweep” candidate, the Oscar voters have a lemming-like tendency to get behind it – even for those categories that most of us don’t really understand.



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