The Golden Globes came and went, as did the untelevised Producer’s Guild Awards and Tuesday morning’s Oscar nominations. For the first time this awards season, we have a race to the finish for the Best Picture Oscar of 2010.

“The Social Network” was the early favorite, sweeping all the major critics’ awards and taking the Globe for Best Picture (Drama) two weeks ago. I was watching the ceremony with the Yale Film Society, and was glad that our party distracted me from the monotony of “The Social Network”’s repeated victories. The thing is, it isn’t exciting when one film sweeps the board. There’s no suspense, no surprise, and for movie buffs, it makes watching these long awards shows, well, long.

Last Saturday night changed everything. The Producer’s Guild, a trade organization representing 4,000 or so film and television producers, held its annual awards ceremony. Not only was this the first test of how Oscar voters will vote on the big night on February 27, but it also produced a game-changing result: “The King’s Speech,” directed by Tom Hooper, triumphed. This was an underdog victory comparable to the Jets beating the Pats. “The Social Network” machine hit its first roadblock, and the momentum has since swung in favor of “The King’s Speech.” When Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday, the film had earned 12 nominations, well ahead of all its competitors.

What does this all mean? In the complex web of awards circuits leading up to the Oscars, nothing is ever for certain. Studios typically save their best films for a release later in the year, in the hope that they will remain in the public consciousness and win at the Academy Awards. Every once in a blue moon you have a film like “The Silence of the Lambs,” which was released in February and won Best Picture at the following year’s ceremony. But this NEVER happens. The race is always routine.

The critics’ awards are the first on the map. Every big city has a critics group that votes for their favorite movies and performances of the year. The New York, Los Angeles and Boston critics are the most established and put forth the early frontrunners. In recent years, with the growth of the Internet, pundits who track the leading candidates on blogs like The Envelope and Awards Daily have also played a huge role in boosting the profile of certain films and creating the hype necessary for carrying a movie and its performers through to Oscar glory.

In January, the awards most important in signaling leading Oscar candidates are given out. The largest film critics’ group, the Broadcast Film Critics Association, hosts the first televised ceremony of the season. The Globes follow in mid-January. Though this is perhaps the most recognized film awards show after the Oscars, there is no overlap in the voting bodies; the Globes are chosen by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, consisting of 93 journalists, as opposed to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The two often disagree. Last year, the Foreign Press chose “Avatar” for Best Picture, while the Academy went with “The Hurt Locker.”

The guilds that represent thousands of producers, screen actors and directors distribute honors in January and February. Because many of these people are also members of the Academy, these distinctions are the best indicators of what will go down on Oscar night.

The Academy has been around the longest and is by far the most exclusive; membership comes by invitation only. The 6,000 members of the Academy (as compared to the 100,000 members in the Screen Actor’s Guild alone) nominate films or actors in categories relevant to their expertise, as well as their top 10 films of the year. Once these votes are tallied, the top vote getters are nominated officially, as they were on Tuesday. The Academy then holds the Oscars at the end of February or early March. This is the finish line.

Since the Oscars end a long slog of nominations, awards shows, campaigning and surprises, a lot can change in the span of three months. Being a frontrunner and Golden Globe winner in January does not guarantee an Oscar. Just ask Meryl Streep DRA ’76. This is what we see happening now in the Best Picture race.

At the Producer’s Guild Awards, the producers crowned “The King’s Speech.” It was also the first time this year we’ve seen the industry vote using the preferential ballot, which the Academy adopted last year when they expanded the Best Picture field to 10 nominees instead of five. This system most favors Tom Hooper’s film.

The movie that gets the most number one votes will not be assured the win unless it has greater than 50 percent of the vote. In this year’s field, that’s not likely to happen. What becomes most important are the second, third and fourth place votes that are redistributed from the films that have the fewest first-place votes. “The King’s Speech” is the safest bet to get these votes. It’s not as polarizing as some of the other contenders, and it has the perfect blend of Oscar bait. It’s a heartwarming historical drama centered on how King George VI overcame a stammer with the help of his speech therapist, and it includes dynamite performances in Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter, great all-around filmmaking and Harvey Weinstein.

Although I do not think we should write off “The Social Network” just yet, “The King’s Speech” has certainly taken advantage of the change in momentum. This weekend, one pivotal question will be answered: Which cast will take the Screen Actor’s ensemble award? If “The King’s Speech” can prevail here, it’s golden.