Clearly, the awards race is more muddy

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If you're wondering what happened to movies you were convinced were Oscar front-runners, they've moved to the back. And those in the middle of the pack have surged to the front. Or gone off the road entirely.

The Golden Globes announcements shook up the race in ways it rarely does.

"Revolutionary Road," whose chances were thought modest for noncast awards, got unexpected life Thursday with best director and best picture nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. "The Reader," a Weinstein Co. bid that had drawn some tough reviews coming into the day, bolstered its chances with a trifecta: noms for best film, director and screenplay.

Meanwhile, Focus' "Milk," coming in with a head of steam after dominating critics groups, was nearly shut out, landing only one acting nom, an expected slot for Sean Penn.

And a picture that looked as if it could begin an intriguing run with a little help from the HFPA, "The Dark Knight," suffered a huge blow when it managed only one nom, an equally expected supporting actor mention for Heath Ledger.

It was such a topsy-turvy day at the Globes that Focus wound up with six nominations. That's a number pundits expected -- except five went to dark horses "Burn After Reading" and the Colin Farrell mob comedy "In Bruges." The Globes were so far from Farrell's mind that he didn't even bother setting his alarm to wake up for the announcements.

About the only movie that was a long shot coming in and coming out was "Australia," which increasingly looks like a candidate mainly for technical awards.

It's a cliche that every race is wide open. But discrepancies between different organizations are measurable, and this year there's been a peculiar case of schizophrenia. The Critics Choice Awards, for instance, routinely names six or seven movies that end up in the Globes' 10 slots. This year? Just four.

The L.A. Film Critics, with an uncanny ability to foretell the Oscars -- their best film has landed an Oscar best pic nom in 15 of the past 17 years -- threw in another monkey wrench by naming "WALL-E" as its best movie. Only one animated film has been nominated for a best picture Oscar: 1991's "Beauty and the Beast."

It's shaping up to be a year in which no one is really out, and no one is really in.

NYFCC chair Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly told Open Season that the race was so close on several ballots that it was hard to keep track of who the favorites were. "In nearly every category, there were at least three or four movies that were neck and neck," she said.

That could make for some fierce campaigning as studios keep up the full-court press long after they otherwise might. Even supposed sure things like "Slumdog Millionaire," "Frost/Nixon" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" aren't locks, particularly "Button," which hasn't opened yet.

Conventional wisdom says the Globes and Oscars differ slightly. But this decade, the Globes' 10 noms foretold all five Oscar best pictures four out of seven years. That means the critics groups may be off. Or it could become like 2005, when the Globes missed three of the five best picture nominees.

Or maybe everyone is wrong. The SAG Awards nominees will be announced Thursday. Don't be surprised if there's a new pecking order yet again.
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