The Winner: The King's Speech
The Nominees: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone
The Race: This was always going to be a two-movie race, as The King's Speech and The Social Network had been firmly established as the favorites heading into Oscar weekend. Anything else winning would have been a shock. And just like that, an easy juxtaposition was created. Incidentally or otherwise, the two contenders were complete opposites. In one corner, a period piece that checked oh-so-many time-tested Oscar boxes: WWII, royalty, Nazis, a protagonist overcoming a disability, a climactic inspirational speech; it was practically engineered to win Best Picture. In the other corner, a distinctly modern story about a distinctly modern creation, centered around a young, prickly protagonist. The two films had milieus of the privileged and elite in common - Buckingham Palace on one hand, rich Harvard brats and Silicon Valley hotshots on the other - but little else.
Naturally, the Academy sided with the triumphant WWII movie. It's the scorpion and the frog.
The rest of the field was no slouch, though. After The Dark Knight was infamously snubbed two years earlier, Christopher Nolan finally made his way into the Best Picture race with the popular, if divisive, smash hit Inception. Pixar made the cut again with Toy Story 3, which has gone down as the most popular of the series. And elsewhere, there was the indie that launched Jennifer Lawrence to stardom, a Coen Brothers Western, and a pair of R-rated, auteur-driven hits that delivered acting Oscars for Natalie Portman and Christian Bale.
The Snubs: Strong reviews and a solid box-office performance for the Boston crime thriller The Town put it in the Oscar conversation, but it was left on the outside looking in. Ditto a pair of well-regarded (if depressing) dramas, Rabbit Hole and Blue Valentine. All three of those movies were represented in the acting categories only.
In Hindsight, Though... : Honoring The King's Speech over The Social Network seemed, even at the time, like a historical Oscar mistake unfolding before everyone's eyes. Hindsight has only enhanced the reputation of the latter - David Fincher's own reputation as one of cinema's modern masters doesn't hurt that, of course - while the former seems, in the minds of many, to fit comfortably in the "Oscar bait" bucket. Pixar being what it is, Toy Story 3 is probably the most enduringly popular of the 10 nominees. Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan remains divisive, in much the same way that his mother! proved to be a few years later. True Grit and The Fighter are still considered among the better examples of two out-of-fashion genres.