News Column

'The King's Speech' Snags Four Oscars, Including Best Picture and Best Actor

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The king spoke and Oscar voters curtsied, bowed and applauded, naming the British historical drama best picture of 2010.

In a 10-movie contest that primarily pitted "The King's Speech" against "The Social Network," Academy Award voters opted for grand tradition, inspiration and a cast led by Colin Firth, whose coronation as best actor was made official Sunday in Hollywood.

"I have a feeling my career just peaked," he said with classic self-deprecating humor. His Oscar was one of four earned by the picture.

Mr. Firth thanked his fellow cast members, screenwriter and one-time stutterer David Seidler, director Tom Hooper for "immense courage and clear-sightedness," and mogul Harvey Weinstein who took him on 20 years ago "when I was a mere child sensation."

Mr. Firth, who is 50, portrays King George VI, a stutterer who overcame his debilitating impediment with the help of an understanding wife and a speech therapist named Lionel Logue.

The man known to his family by his childhood nickname of Bertie was an unexpected monarch, crowned after his father died and his older brother gave up the throne for the woman he scandalously loved.

King George VI may have been an accidental king but Mr. Firth is no accidental Academy Award winner. A classically trained British theater actor, Mr. Firth was nominated a year ago for "A Single Man" and has handled a range of roles in projects such as "Pride and Prejudice," "Bridget Jones's Diary," "Mamma Mia!" and "Valmont."

As he invariably has done, Mr. Firth thanked his Italian wife, Livia Giuggioli, for "putting up with my fleeting delusions of royalty and who I hold responsible for this and for, really, everything that's good that's happened since I met her."

In the contest between showy and solid, Natalie Portman danced into Oscar history while fellow contender Annette Bening's record advanced to 0 for 4.

The pregnant Ms. Portman, radiant in a violet-colored Rodarte gown and expecting a child with fiance and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, plays a ballerina who taps into her dark side and loses herself in "Black Swan."

"Thank you so much to the Academy, this is insane," Ms. Portman said upon taking the stage. She thanked her parents for giving her life and the opportunity to work from such an early age and providing an example of how to be a "good human being."

Just 29, she is a rarity in Hollywood: a child actress who made a smooth, problem-free transition to adulthood, graduated from Harvard -- and even gets along with her parents.

Ms. Portman thanked directors Luc Besson, Mike Nichols and Darren Aronofsky along with those who spent a year training her, and the men and women who ministered to her daily on the set. She also singled out her beau "who now has given me my most important role in my life."

In addition to proclaiming "King's Speech" its top film, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences embraced Mr. Hooper, who was considered a frontrunner but not a sure thing going into the 83rd Academy Awards in Hollywood.

Mr. Hooper congratulated his fellow nominees, thanked "the triangle of man love which is Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and me" along with the balance of the cast and crew. "To David Seidler, whose extraordinary journey from childhood stammerer to the stage of the Kodak, I find so profoundly moving," the director said.

He singled out his parents in the audience and said, "I know there's been a lot of thanking of mums but this is slightly different because my mum, in 2007, was invited by some Australian friends ... to a fringe-theater play reading of an unproduced, unrehearsed play called 'The King's Speech.' "

She almost didn't go because it didn't sound promising but she went, came home and called her son the director and said, "Tom, I think I found your next film." The moral of the story, he concluded: "Listen to your mother."

Christian Bale and Melissa Leo took the supporting prizes for "The Fighter" and Ms. Leo took the prize for dropping the f-bomb early in the telecast but being bleeped by the censors.

Backstage, according to the Associated Press, she jokingly conceded it was "probably a very inappropriate place to use that particular word."

Mr. Bale stepped out of the dark shadows of Batman and won an Oscar for playing boxer and crack addict Dickie Eklund in "The Fighter."

He lost 30 pounds, shaved a bald spot into the back of his head and adopted a Massachusetts accent and the facial expressions and mannerisms of a guy who is goofy, gutsy and going in the wrong direction with his life.

After kissing his wife and then co-star Amy Adams, Mr. Bale took the stage. "Bloody hell. Wow. What a room full of talented and inspirational people and what the hell am I doing here in the midst of you? It's such an honor."

He thanked director David O. Russell "for making the work that all of us actors did actually mean something" and gave a shoutout to Mr. Eklund and his website. "I'm not gonna drop the f-bomb like [Melissa Leo] did. I've done that plenty before," he said, to knowing laughs.

Mr. Bale has long been one of Hollywood's most underappreciated actors. He emerged from a field of 4,000 boys to be cast by Steven Spielberg in 1987's "Empire of the Sun" and since then he's played everything from a yuppie serial killer and POW to a desperate rancher and, of course, the Dark Knight.

He got choked up in calling his wife, Sibi Blazic, "my mast through the storms of life. I hope I'm likewise to you."

Although pundits wondered whether Ms. Leo had torpedoed her Oscar chances with glamorous but ill-advised ads in the trade publications, she either delivered a knock-out or won on points (and ballots) as best supporting actress for "The Fighter."

"For me?" Ms. Leo said. "Oh wow. Really, really, really, really, really truly wow. I know there's a lot of people that said a lot of real, real nice things to me for several months now.

"But I'm just shakin' in my boots here," Ms. Leo said, having asked presenter Kirk Douglas to pinch her. "Golly sakes, there's people up there, too," she said, looking to the upper balconies before uttering the f-word in an Alice Ward style moment and being bleeped by censors.

Ms. Leo plays Alice Ward, the Lowell, Mass., mother of nine, including boxers "Irish" Micky Ward and Dickie Eklund portrayed by Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. Just 11 years older than Mr. Wahlberg, she nevertheless pulled it off although she cut and dyed her trademark red hair and spent 90 minutes daily in the hair and makeup chair.

"This has been an extraordinary journey in getting to know what the Academy is about and first and foremost, thank you, Academy, because it's about sellin' motion pictures and respecting the work."

Aaron Sorkin sold "The Social Network" with his adapted screenplay.

"It's impossible to describe what it feels like to be given the same award as Paddy Chayefsky 35 years ago for another movie with 'Network' in the title. His was an original screenplay; this is an adaptation of a book by Ben Mezrich, so I'm accepting this on his behalf as well."

Mr. Seidler, who is in his early 70s, took the original screenplay prize for "The King's Speech," its first honor of the night 50 minutes into the ceremony.

"The writer's speech. This is terrifying. My father always said to me, I would be a late bloomer," the onetime stutterer said with a shrug.

"I believe I am the oldest person to win this particular award. I hope that record is broken quickly and often," Mr. Seidler said, thanking Her Majesty the Queen "for not putting me in the Tower of London for using the Melissa Leo f-word."

He accepted the Oscar on behalf of all the stutterers throughout the world. "We have a voice. We have been heard. Thanks to you, the Academy."

Director Lee Unkrich, whose "Toy Story 3" was named best animated picture, spoke for many winners: "I can't believe I'm actually saying this but thank you to the Academy." To the whoops of the crowd, he also called Pixar "the most awesome place on the planet to make movies."

"Toy Story 3," perhaps the most loved movie of 2010, also turned Randy Newman into a two-time winner (out of 20 nominations) thanks to the song "We Belong Together."

The elder Douglas, walking with the assistance of a cane and his speech bearing residual traces of his stroke, earned the first standing ovation of the night as he came out onto the Kodak Theatre stage to present the award for best supporting actress.

He toyed with the audience and tarried in reading the name sealed in the newly designed envelope but no one seemed to mind that early in the show.

In what might be a first, winner (Luke Matheny who made the live-action short "God of Love") thanked his mom for doing craft services or providing snacks and other treats for the cast and crew.

The initial awards of the night went to "Alice in Wonderland" for art direction and "Inception" for cinematography and winners in both categories paid tribute to their respective directors, Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan.

Later in the show, "Alice" also took the gold for costumes, "Inception" scored both of the sound Oscars and the visual effects award while Denmark's "In a Better World" (not on Pittsburgh's radar yet) won the foreign film prize. Mercer native and former Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won for their "Social Network" score.

The show opened with expertly edited highlights from the 10 best picture nominees and then inserted hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway into the "dreams" of Alec Baldwin, "Inception" style (with Morgan Freeman narration), and later allowed the hosts to rocket into the present from a "Back to the Future" car.

"You look very appealing to the younger demographic as well," Ms. Hathaway said to her co-host, acknowledging the conventional wisdom about why they were picked. Mr. Franco suggested they both were nominees but Ms. Hathaway was not, despite getting naked for "Love & Other Drugs" shot in Pittsburgh.

A couple of other previous hosts popped up, too. Hugh Jackman was a presenter and an easy laugh from the audience while Billy Crystal was given a standing ovation as he paid tribute to the man who hosted more than any other: Bob Hope.

The prestigious final slot in the In Memoriam tribute belonged to Lena Horne, who died in 2010 at the age of 92. Halle Berry introduced a salute to the iconic performer who moved to the Hill District as an 18-year-old to live with her divorced father, Ted Horne, co-owner of the Belmont Hotel on Wylie Avenue.

It was in the Hill District that Ms. Horne met her mentor, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington's principal collaborator. She credits him with giving her the confidence to move into the first ranks of American singers.

The brief salute closed with Ms. Horne's words: "It's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it."

Behind the scenes, Pittsburghers Carol O'Laughlin and Cindy Popovich safely made it to their seats in the outside bleachers -- wearing their neon yellow T-shirts and red scarves with white hats and sunglasses.

They were required to arrive by 9:30 a.m. and found themselves in a long line and got to their assigned spots (eighth row back) by 10:45 a.m. California time. No snow, no rain, a gentle breeze and direct sunlight -- you can't ask for more.

Mrs. Popovich of McKeesport won the two seats and invited Ms. O'Laughlin, who scored four seats in 2007 and alerted her friends to the random drawing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences holds every fall. Participants enter online and then hope for a rare e-mail acceptance.

In other local connections, eagle-eyed TV viewers could have spotted Carnegie Mellon University graduate Aron Ralston, whose story is told in "127 Hours," with his wife on the red carpet outside the Kodak Theatre.