Last night I asked six handicappers — Scott Feinberg, Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil, Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson, Deadline‘s Pete Hammond, The Wrap‘s Steve Pond, Entertainment Weekly‘s Dave Karger — to review the possibly diminishing Best Picture status of The King’s Speech, and to try and explain which LAFCA members pushed through yesterday’s curious honorings of Mother‘s Kim Hye-Ja and A Prophet‘s Niels Arestrup.

More specifically, I asked what kind of Best Picture heat does The King’s Speech have in the wake of being blanked by several critics groups over the past few days, and are the Gurus of Gold, most of whom have been staunch King’s Speech allies, finally ready to fold the tent? And two, what critic or major columnist or blogger has been a champion of LAFCA’s Best Actress winner Kim Hye-Ja or their Best Supporting Actor winner Niels Arestrup? Who were their LAFCA champions? I don’t understand how these two, of all the potential winners, won with LAFCA.

Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil: “Oscar pundits may give the best performance of 2010 as smug know-it-alls, but they’re sheep like everyone else and will jump off the King’s Speech bandwagon and onto the Social Network one pronto if it really takes off thanks to the crix kudos. Let’s see what the Noo Yawkers do [today]. And LAFCA has always prided itself on picking wacky stuff – like Yolande Moreau (Seraphine) last year in that category or Vera Farmiga in Down to the Bone in 2005. They love to be esoteric and populist at the same time, just to show how cool they are in both ways.”

TheWrap‘s Steve Pond: “As a card-carrying King’s Speech bitch, I ain’t scatterin’ yet. The King’s Speech was never going to get its support from the critics. It was going to get its support from the guilds and from the rank-and-file Academy members. In fact, I’m surprised it got as much support from LAFCA as it did, and to me that means it might get a critics award or two before it’s done.

“Two things could make me reconsider. One, if TKS doesn’t get guild support, that’ll be significant. But I don’t think it’s very likely. And two, while I always figured that The Social Network would win a good number of critics awards, I didn’t think it’d run the table the way The Hurt Locker did. If it does — and we’ve got a long way to go before that happens — then I might have to change my mind.

“As for Kim Hye-Ja and Niels Arestrup, the impression I get is that LAFCA is deeply divided between mainstream folks and arty contrarians. The contrarians know they’ll never carry the day when it comes to Best Picture and such, so they focus on the acting races. Usually they only get one of those choices through: Yolande Moreau in ’09, Vlad Ivanov in ’07, Sacha Baron Cohen in ’06. I guess the mainstreamers were more divided in the acting categories this year, so the art-monster bloc saw an opening and took it.

“Nobody except Guy Lodge saw Arestrup coming, and nobody saw Kim Hye-ja. But she did get amazing reviews out of Cannes ’09, didn’t she? Her biggest champion, I’m guessing, is John Powers, whose Vogue review of Mother is quoted all over the place.”

Deadline‘s Pete Hammond: “No one expected The King’s Speech [to prevail with critics groups]. Critics groups are voting in packs again and The Social Network is the flavor of this month. I don’t agree with the idea that because some critics groups like to copy each other that this means bad things for The Kings Speech. Doesn’t compute. Gurus and Derby predix are about Oscars. But good for TSN, a fine film that deserves its moment in the sun.

“As for LAFCA they always go rogue in acting. I heard from one person in the room that there was an active e-mail movement among certain members to name Dogtooth Best Picture, but it didn’t go anywhere once the meeting got going today. There are always champions.”

Entertainment Weekly‘s Dave Karger: “I still think The King’s Speech is going to be a big Academy film a la Chicago. So I’m not scattering. I knew The Social Network would be a critics film all along. And as for LAFCA, they often go weird on best actress. Remember Vera Farmiga for Down to the Bone?”

Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson: “I always knew critics wouldn’t go for The King’s Speech, although it is in the mix. The Academy will go for it. We’re looking at a two-film race. Critics help films become must-see, but are not essential for Oscar contention.

“[Most] critics are male. Hurt Locker excepted, The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone aren’t getting critics wins [because they’re primarily about women]. But they will still be in mix. Black Swan the critics like, Academy members less so. [The win by Kim Hye-Ja with LAFCA win tells you that] the Best Actress race is all over the map. Critics often choose to go their own way. LAFCA couldn’t agree on anyone else.”

Wells dispute: The Best Actress race is not all over the map — it’s Portman’s to lose.

Scott Feinberg of “The LA Film Critics Association likes to throw in at least one or two snobbish choices every year — i.e., films/performances that exhausted their Oscar eligibility the previous year (i.e. Niels Arestrup for A Prophet) and/or films/performances that, fairly or unfairly, never would have had a shot with the Academy in any year (i.e. Kim Hye-Ja in Mother). This is the first and last that you will hear of either of those people this awards season, just as it was the first and last we heard of LAFCA’s 2009 best actress Yolande Moreau (Seraphine), 2007 best supporting actor Vlad Ivanov (4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days), 2006 best supporting actress Luminita Gheorghiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), etc.

“As for The King’s Speech, the Gurus of Gold are not going to scatter — and they may not be wrong. Though I personally think that The Social Network will top The King’s Speech at the Oscars, we must be careful not to over-interpret the results of critics groups. The Academy may sometimes take more notice of a film because of its popularity with critics, but they don’t necessarily follow their lead. Never forget 2005, when Brokeback Mountain won virtually every critics award in the world…and then lost to Crash, which had won virtually none, at the Oscars.”

Wells Exception: I believe/suspect that the Academy’s reactionary old-fart contingent (i.e., the ones who voted against Brokeback Mountain rather than for Crash) has been outflanked by younger, hipper members over the last five years. I don’t think that group, which also stood by Chicago, matters quite as much today in the scheme of things.