Categorically, it's confusing

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You may not remember the run-up to the war in Iraq as being an especially hilarious time.

But Lionsgate is hoping the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. finds some of the moments covered in its George W. Bush biopic amusing -- it's pushing "W." in the comedy/musical category at this year's Golden Globes.

The studio would hardly be the first to push an essentially dramatic movie into the comedy category in hopes of swimming in a less competitive pool. There have been a slew of movies deemed comedies by the Globes that fit only the most imaginative interpretation of that term. The Antonio Banderas knee-slapper "The Mask of Zorro" made it. "Pride and Prejudice," a Judd Apatow gross-out picture if there ever was one, landed there. And who can forget that laugh riot from 2006, "The Squid and the Whale"?

The HFPA's deadline for entries is today, so no word yet if HFPA will go along should Lionsgate take that route -- though the company did highlight "W.'s" humor in its marketing, so the plan could well fly. (If the notion is rejected, there's an appeals process in which a studio can make another entreaty, which usually is handled by the filmmaker; one can only imagine how Oliver Stone, who has gone to great lengths to paint "W." as a serious portrait, might defend its entry in the comedy category.)

But who can blame Lionsgate for trying? There is rarely a discernible pattern for what the HFPA accepts in the category.

"Fargo" was allowed in as a comedy, but "Pulp Fiction" wasn't, even though the two share humorous violence and darkly comic themes.

Not that these decisions are easy for the people behind the Globes. They're in the same bind as other awards bodies: under pressure to recognize comedies and star-driven films. If they don't, they're accused of ignoring popular, commercial movies. But when they bestow noms on a star vehicle or broad comedy -- one thinks of Robin Williams in that French New Wave classic "Patch Adams" -- they're criticized for lowering their standards.

But there's an easy way out. Instead of struggling to define squishy categories -- confounding awards-watchers and annoying studios -- why not get rid of the comedy/musical category altogether, along with its associated best comedy/musical actor and actress noms?

To avoid losing slots, the HFPA could simply expand the number of nominees in its picture and acting categories. The Broadcast Film Critics Assn. puts 10 films in its picture mix.

Such a standard would also be truer to the texture and tone of many contemporary movies. Most specialty films are layered with dramatic and comic elements (even dramas like "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Wrestler" have effective comedic moments). Thrillers can be funny, dramas can be thrilling, romances can be sardonic. In the age of cross-genre filmmaking, categories are an anachronism.

Would actual laugh-out-loud comedies get short-shrifted? I don't think so. The Oscars have managed without such a category, and it recently recognized worthy light fare like "Sideways" and "Juno."

Yet the Globes are adding rather than eliminating categories. The HFPA recently created its animated feature category, assuring that a near-perfect movie like "WALL-E" will end up outside both the drama and comedy folds.

The fact is, if you really start splitting the atom, every movie would compete in its own category. Why do action movies not get their own playground? Thrillers? Biopics? It may be time for the Globes to junk its comedy/musical classification and just let all the films compete against each another.
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