LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Black Swan," a melodrama set in the ballet world, took center stage among the nominees for the Critics' Choice Movie Awards, an event that has surpassed the Golden Globes as a leading Oscar predictor.
The film, drawing sell-out crowds in early limited release across North America, scored 12 nominations -- a record in the event's 16-year history, organizers said on Monday.
Close behind -- with 11 each -- were the British royals drama "The King's Speech" and the yet-to-open Western remake "True Grit." The sci-fi smash "Inception" picked up 10 nominations, and corporate drama "The Social Network" nine.
All five will vie for both best picture and director, along with "127 Hours." The 10-strong best picture race also includes "The Fighter," "The Town," "Toy Story 3" and "Winter's Bone."
Small art-house releases dominated the field, leaving "Toy Story 3" and "Inception" to fly the flag for mainstream crowd-pleasers. Notably absent among the nominees were such awards-season contenders as Sofia Coppola's upcoming "Somewhere" and the Martin Scorsese hit "Shutter Island."
Winners will be announced on January 14 in a Hollywood ceremony that will be broadcast live on cable channel VH1.
The awards, organized by the 250 members of the Broadcast Film Critics Association in the United States and Canada, have matched the Academy Awards' best picture choice eight times in the past 10 years. The Golden Globes, run by the considerably smaller Hollywood Foreign Press Association, have a 50 percent success rate in that time.
The crossover rate for the Critics' Choice directing winner is 70 percent compared with 40 percent for the Globes. Also in the last 10 years, at least half the Critics' Choice acting winners have gone on to claim Oscar gold.
HOLD THE CHAMPAGNE
But the cast and crew of "Black Swan" should not start celebrating yet. Ominously, the top Critics' Choice nominee is often snubbed at the group's awards ceremony.
Earlier this year "Inglourious Basterds" and "Nine," which led the field with a then-record 10 nominations each, were overshadowed by "The Hurt Locker," which went on to dominate the Oscars.
It was the same story in 2009, when "Slumdog Millionaire" came from behind to beat "Milk" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and then bask in Oscar glory. The year before, "Into the Wild" led the nominees but went home empty-handed. It was also ignored by the Oscars.
"Black Swan" stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as rival ballerinas in a New York City production of "Swan Lake." They received nominations for best actress and supporting actress, respectively. Director Darren Aronofsky was also nominated.
"King's Speech" star Colin Firth will vie for best actor with Jeff Bridges of "True Grit," which opens on December 22. The field also includes Robert Duvall ("Get Low"), Jesse Eisenberg ("The Social Network"), James Franco ("127 Hours") and Ryan Gosling ("Blue Valentine").
Whoever wins that category should probably start writing an Oscar acceptance speech. The Critics' Choice Movie Awards best actor has gone on to win the same title at the Academy Awards for seven years running.
(Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Eric Walsh)