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Two siblings, portrayed by Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and Maxime Gaudette, learn about their mother's mysterious past in Incendies, a best foreign film nominee for the Oscars. ((eOne Films))

The King's Speech, the much acclaimed British monarchy drama about a stuttering King George VI, leads the way to the Academy Awards after netting a leading 12 nominations, including best picture.

The U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees early Tuesday from Hollywood.

The period tale also earned kudos for director Tom Hooper and its original screenplay. Colin Firth's turn as the stammering king nabbed a best actor nomination. Co-stars Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter — who portray speech therapist Lionel Logue and Queen Elizabeth, respectively — will vie for supporting actor and actress.

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"This story has struck such a rich resonant chord with audiences of all ages, which is very exciting. To have your work honoured by your industry peers is even better," Rush said in a statement.

However, The King's Speech faces formidable competition on all fronts.

Its best picture rivals are a familiar list of titles, all praised on critics' year-end lists and in recent award shows:

  • Facebook tale The Social Network
  • Dance thriller Black Swan
  • Boxing drama The Fighter
  • Sci-fi blockbuster Inception
  • Contemporary family drama The Kids Are All Right
  • True-life survival tale 127 Hours
  • Animated tale Toy Story 3
  • Revamped western True Grit
  • Ozarks crime thriller Winter's Bone

Selected nominees:

Direction: Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan; David O. Russell, The Fighter; Tom Hooper, The King's Speech; David Fincher, The Social Network; Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit.

Original screenplayAnother Year; The Fighter; Inception; The Kids Are All Right; The King's Speech.

Adapted screenplay: 127 Hours; The Social Network; Toy Story 3; True Grit; Winter's Bone.

Supporting actress: Amy Adams, The Fighter; Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech; Melissa Leo, The Fighter; Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit; Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom.

Supporting actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter; John Hawkes, Winter's Bone; Jeremy Renner, The Town; Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right; Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech.

Firth's royal portrayal pits him against Hollywood veteran Jeff Bridges, who last year won for Crazy Heart and is a nominee this year for the Coen brothers' remake of True Grit.

Two young actors were also singled out for their portrayals of real people: Jesse Eisenberg's turn as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network and James Franco's dramatization of trapped mountain climber Aron Ralston in 127 Hours. Spanish star Javier Bardem's gritty performance in Biutiful rounds out the list.

Natalie Portman and Annette Bening are the frontrunners for the best actress trophy: Black Swan's Portman for her convincing portrayal of a star ballerina losing her grip with reality, and Bening for her stirring performance as a lesbian mother faced with losing her family in The Kids Are All Right.

Their competition includes Nicole Kidman as a grieving mother in Rabbit Hole, Michelle Williams for the marital drama Blue Valentine, and Jennifer Lawrence for her turn as a teen in search of her fugitive father in Winter's Bone.

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Toy Story 3, the final instalment of the beloved series, earned several Academy Award nominations, including for best picture. ((Disney/Pixar))

Incendies, Quebec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad's intense family drama and Canada's official selection for Oscar consideration, has been nominated in the best foreign-language film category.

"It's such a huge honour. It's like a gift," Villeneuve told CBC News on Tuesday morning.

"It's going to be quite a ride. [But] for me, the big gift was to be among the five nominees. I know that it's a tough competition to be there. I'm just enjoying being there. I have my prize right now," he said.

Villeneuve also singled out Mouawad, whose "incredible play and ideas are the basis of the film."

The film, which follows two siblings who travel to the Middle East to investigate their mother's past, faces competition from:

  • Biutiful (Mexico)
  • Dogtooth (Greece)
  • In a Better World (Denmark)
  • Outside the Law (Algeria)

Incendies, the followup to Villeneuve's noted film Polytechnique, about the Montreal Massacre, was a favourite on the film festival circuit and also named 2010's best Canadian film by critics groups in both Toronto and Vancouver.

Canada's last foreign-language film finalist was Deepa Mehta's Water, nominated in 2007. The country's last foreign-language Oscar win was in 2004, when Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions took the trophy.

Other Canadians heading to the Oscars include:

  • Adrien Morot, nominated for best achievement in makeup for his work on the Montreal-shot Barney's Version.
  • Dean DeBlois, co-director of best animated film nominee How to Train Your Dragon.
  • Paul Dutton, animation director for best animated film nominee The Illusionist.

Boost for Toy Story 3

The original Toy Story helped launch the Pixar animation studio as a dominant filmmaking force and its third instalment was among the best reviewed films of 2010. Toy Story 3 — the final tale in the much-loved series — fetched nominations for best picture, adapted screenplay, original song (We Belong Together by Randy Newman), sound editing and animated film.

Its rivals for the latter category are the forementioned adventure How to Train Your Dragon and the melancholy, Jacques Tati-inspired The Illusionist

Exit Through the Gift Shop, the film by contemporary graffiti artist Banksy, leads a strong field of documentary feature contenders. Another nominee also delves into the world of art while telling an environmental tale: Waste Land follows a Brazilian-born artist who returns home to create artwork from garbage.

Also nominated for the documentary feature Oscar are drilling expose Gasland, financial crisis examination Inside Job and Afghan war film Restrepo.

Hosted by Franco and fellow actor Anne Hathaway, the 83rd annual Academy Awards are Feb. 27 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

This chart maps best picture nominations against total gross to Jan. 16, 2011, as reported by Box Office Mojo. (CBC)