Films and performances that won kudos throughout the film awards season also earned accolades at the 83rd annual Academy Awards, with The King's Speech and its star, Colin Firth, triumphant at the Oscars.

The period drama about King George VI's struggle to overcome a crippling stammer won in four categories, including the top prize: best picture.

Firth, previously nominated for a best actor Oscar in 2010 for Tom Ford's A Single Man, won the title this year for his turn as the stuttering monarch.

"I have a feeling that my career has just peaked," the British actor quipped. "I'm afraid I have to warn you that I'm experiencing stirrings somewhere in the upper abdominals which are threatening to form themselves into dance moves."

The King's Speech, which emerged as the film to beat early in 2011, started the night with a leading 12 nominations.

2011 Oscar winners

  • Picture: The King's Speech.
  • Actor: Colin Firth, The King's Speech.
  • Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan.
  • Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter.
  • Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter.
  • Directing: Tom Hooper, The King's Speech.
  • Foreign-Language: In a Better World(Denmark)
  • Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network.
  • Original Screenplay: The King's Speech.
  • Animated Feature: Toy Story 3.
  • Art Direction: Alice in Wonderland.
  • Cinematography: Inception.
  • Sound Mixing: Inception.
  • Sound Editing: Inception.
  • Original Score: The Social Network.
  • Original Song: We Belong Together (fromToy Story 3)
  • Costume Design: Alice in Wonderland.
  • Documentary Feature: Inside Job.
  • Documentary Short: Strangers No More.
  • Film Editing: The Social Network.
  • Makeup: The Wolfman.
  • Animated Short: The Lost Thing.
  • Live Action Short: God of Love.
  • Visual Effects: Inception

Director Tom Hooper snagged the best director honour and thanked his mother for attending a stage reading of a stageplay version of The King's Speech and bringing the story to his attention.

"The moral of the story is: listen to your mother," he said.

David Seidler, who won the original screenplay Oscar for penning The King's Speech, was born in London a year after King George VI took the throne and also overcame a childhood stutter. He cited the monarch for setting an example and had vowed to one day write about him.

"I accept this on behalf for all the stutterers in the world. We have a voice. We have been heard, thanks to you, Academy," he said in his acceptance speech.

The film, which began its road to the Oscars by winning the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, also received royal endorsement: a "recommendation" by Queen Elizabeth II, whose representatives revealed that she found the film "moving and enjoyable" after a private screening in January.

Key performances honoured

Other actors that had been honoured by countless critics' groups, film industry guilds and other award shows also added Oscars to their haul Sunday night.

Natalie Portman, who trained for over a year to portray a ballerina losing her grip on reality in Black Swan, thanked "everyone who has ever hired me." Included in that list were director Luc Besson, who cast the actress in The Professional when she was just "11 years old," Closer director Mike Nichols and Darren Aronofsky, the "visionary" filmmaker who wrote the ballet psychodrama with her in mind.

The supporting actress and actor trophies also went to front-runners. The Fighter's Melissa Leo and Christian Bale capped off a season of film award wins with Oscars in hand. They picked up trophies for their respective turns as a tough matriarch and a former boxer-turned-coach in The Fighter.

"I’m just shaking in my boots here," Leo said as she took the stage, shortly after asking Hollywood icon Kirk Douglas, who presented her the Oscar, to "pinch me."

The veteran actress thanked her co-stars, her family and the real-life Alice Ward, whom she portrays in the boxing drama, before also extending thanks to the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

"It's all about selling motion pictures and respecting the work," she said.

'To be standing up here in this company is flattering beyond words.' —Trent Reznor, co-winner for original score

Her inadvertent use of the F-word during her speech also slipped by some network censors and was referenced by other winners throughout the evening. Backstage, Leo quipped it was "probably a very inappropriate place to use that particular word."

Bale, one of those who ribbed Leo for dropping the F-bomb, followed more of a traditional route in his acceptance speech, thanking his co-stars and acknowledging his peers.

"What a room full of talented and inspirational people … and what am I doing here in the midst of you?" he joked.

Wins for Inception, The Social Network

Sci-fi blockbuster Inception was one of the night's biggest winners, with director Christopher Nolan's latest picking up a quartet of Oscars, largely for the film's technical prowess.

The complicated tale was an early Academy Award winner for its impressive cinematography. Closer to the midway point, the film was honoured for its sound editing and sound mixing. Not long after, it also earned the Oscar for its visual effects.

Contemporary chronicle The Social Network had been the strongest competitor to The King's Speech, having started the evening with eight Oscar nominations and been named the top film of 2010 by a host of critics groups.

The David Fincher-directed tale about the troubled birth of Facebook didn't leave empty-handed on Sunday night. It won a trio of awards, among them nods for best film editing and its original score, with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross acknowledged for the film's insistent sound.

"Is this really happening?" Reznor, the Nine Inch Nails frontman, asked as he took the stage to accept his Oscar.

"When we finished work on The Social Network, we were very proud of our work and just happy to be involved in this film. To be standing up here in this company is flattering beyond words."

Another of the evening's predictable winners was Aaron Sorkin, who landed the Oscar for best adapted screenplay. He based his script for The Social Network on Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires.

The visually distinctive Alice in Wonderland nabbed a pair of trophies. Tim Burton's wacky adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic earned best art direction as well as best costume design.

Also ending the night with a pair of Oscars was Toy Story 3, the final instalment of the Pixar series about talking toys. It won best animated feature and best original song (We Belong Together by Randy Newman).

Other winners Sunday evening included:

  • Foreign-language feature: In a Better World, Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier's acclaimed film, which beat out Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve's Incendies.
  • Animated short: The Lost Thing.
  • Makeup: The Wolfman.
  • Documentary feature: Inside Job.
  • Documentary short: Strangers No More.
  • Live action short: God of Love.

Actors Anne Hathaway and James Franco hosted this year's ceremony, which took place at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.

The evening was punctuated with several musical performances, including truncated versions of the four best original song nominees, as well as Céline Dion’s rendition of the Charlie Chaplin song Smile, as a tribute to those Hollywood has lost over the past year.

Halle Berry also paid special homage to performer and civil rights activist Lena Horne, who died in May 2010, while Annette Bening acknowledged this year's lifetime achivement Oscar winners: film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, director Jean-Luc Godard and actor Eli Wallach.

With files from The Associated Press