Ah yes, Oscar time. That bloated, self-important festival of filmic back-pattery, red-carpet fashion, gossip and terrible acceptance speeches. The glamour may be increasingly manufactured and the ceremony itself unbearably long, but there’s no denying the Oscars still hold public attention with their unique blend of elitism and populism. This year, however, for the first time in quite a while it’s shaping up to be truly interesting. Yep, there’s a battle of filmmaking philosophies a’ brewin’. Here’s Broadsheet’s rundown of seven popular contenders and their chances for the big prizes.

Animal Kingdom (1 Nomination)
Let’s start with the little Aussie film that could. David Michod’s tale about a family of Melbourne criminals took a lot of people by surprise, especially in America. Coming out of nowhere, it stormed the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema. While it has some very accomplished and restrained filmmaking on show, I found it somewhat underwhelming given the hype.

Except for one performance, that is.

Jacki Weaver’s turn as the matriarch Janine Cody is simply outstanding and she wholeheartedly deserves her Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Sadly, she’s facing some pretty stiff competition (especially from True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld) and I doubt she’ll sneak in.

The King’s Speech (12 Nominations)
The year’s most nominated film (including nods for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director), The King’s Speech will go toe-to-toe with Black Swan and The Social Network for best picture, but remains the odds-on favourite to walk away with the most little gold men. While Colin Firth – widely tipped to take home the award for Best Leading Actor – probably just about deserves to win, the rest of the nominations are hugely overblown. The King’s Speech is a nice, safe film and nothing more. The rest of the performances are totally unspectacular and its story is bland, middle-of-the-road stuff that takes absolutely no chances. Sadly, that just might make it perfect Oscar material.

We have 10 double passes to give away to The King’s Speech. To win email win@broadsheet.com.au with ‘The King’s Speech’ in the subject and your address in the email.

True Grit (10 Nominations)
True Grit is perhaps the toughest film to call this year. While it’s nailed plenty of nominations – including Best Picture, Best Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Hailee Steinfeld) and Best Director (nothing new for the Cohen brothers there) – it was totally snubbed by the Golden Globes, failing to receive a single nomination. As much as I liked this film, apart from Steinfeld’s wonderful debut (which is wholeheartedly deserving of an Oscar), I’ve got a feeling it won’t take home any other major awards. It’s interesting to note that Steinfeld’s nomination is for Best Supporting Actress, when many feel she has the film’s central role. It does, however, save her from going up against Natalie Portman for the Best Leading Actress however, which may yet turn out to be a blessing for the young debutante.

We have 10 double passes to give away to True Grit. To win email win@broadsheet.com.au with ‘True Grit’ in the subject and your address in the email.

The Social Network (8 Nominations)
One of my favourite films of the year, The Social Network’s dramatic portrayal of the founding of Facebook is a real Oscars powerhouse, securing nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) and even Best Original Score. A prescient postmodern fable, The Social Network’s subtle character-driven drama has already scored Best Picture (Drama) at this year’s Golden Globes as well as Best Director (for David Fincher), Best Screenplay (for Aaron Sorkin) and best score (for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it pulled the same stunt at the Oscars but I do, however, expect that Jesse Eisenberg will get passed over in favour of Colin Firth.

The Fighter (7 Nominations)
The Fighter is all about Christian Bale, nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category. The true story of struggling boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his relationship with his crack-addled older brother (Bale), The Fighter is a measured and unique take on the beaten-to-death tale of the underdog fighting against the odds. While Amy Adams is convincing in the role of Wahlberg’s love interest, her co-star and rival for Best Supporting Actress, Melissa Leo, is arguably more deserving of the award. However, any awards other than that for Bale’s incredible performance would have to be considered a surprise.

127 Hours (6 Nominations)
The latest from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) is essentially a one-man-show starring the very gifted James Franco (Spiderman, Milk). One of four adaptations of a true story nominated for Best Picture this year, 127 Hours is the harrowing story of Aron Ralston, a hiker forced to cut off his own arm to survive when he becomes stuck alone out in the middle of the Utah desert. While Franco’s nomination for Best Actor is warranted (he carries the film admirably), I doubt it has much chance of snagging any other major awards.

Black Swan (5 Nominations)
Last, but certainly not least, is Black Swan. In my opinion it’s not only the year’s best film but one of the best films in recent memory. Director Darren Aronofsky (he Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) has delivered an exquisite psychological thriller that takes aim at no less than the universal contradictions of the human psyche. An intricate interplay of reality and dream, of outward appearance and internal desire, Black Swan is a modern tragedy in the classic sense – a sublimation of opposing drives. Natalie Portman is nothing short of incredible as the troubled Nina, and should she fail to take home the Best Actress award I’d have to suspect some kind of conspiracy. If I was handing out Oscars, it would take one home for each of its nominations.

This year’s Academy Awards offer a particularly intriguing opportunity. It really comes down to The King’s Speech, a family-pleasing slice of feel-good entertainment, Black Swan, a visceral and visionary piece filmmaking that’s everything The King’s Speech is not, and The Social Network, a classically crafted character drama. And while I’m inclined to suspect that The King’s Speech will predictably come up trumps, by rewarding a risk-taking film like Black Swan there’s a real chance for the Academy to make a bold statement about what they truly value in a film.