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Comedy Has Its Golden Moment

Suzanne Hanover/Universal Pictures

Formidable dramas also are set to battle at the only contest that doesn't pit funny against the serious.

This year's field of best musical or comedy contenders -- 50/50, The Artist, Bridesmaids, Midnight in Paris, My Week With Marilyn -- is as deep as any in recent years. Completely devoid of clunkers to fill out the category or to attract big names (think: Burlesque and The Tourist), it features five truly original stories that span the spectrum of comedy, several of which could wind up as nominees at the Oscars as well.

The clear front-runner is The Artist, which could become the first winner of this category to go on to win the best picture Oscar since Chicago (2002). But it has vulnerabilities: It doesn't include a household name among its principal stars and it hasn't been all that successful at the box office (though a Globes win could change that), two things that the HFPA has historically gravitated toward.

Woody Allen's comeback film, Midnight in Paris, checks off both of those boxes -- its huge ensemble is headlined by A-listers Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, and it has raked in $150 million worldwide -- so it would appear to be the likely alternative.

But don't count out Bridesmaids, the raunchy summer blockbuster written by and starring a colorful group of women. The HFPA usually prefers dramedies to broad comedies (over the past decade it nominated but passed on honoring Legally Blonde, The Producers, Borat and Burn After Reading), but did honor The Hangover in 2010.

While the musical/comedy category is always tough, each year the majority of the top awards contenders are dramas, which is why that is almost always the more competitive of the Globes' two best picture categories. This year, the HFPA couldn't agree on just five nominees, so they nominated six: The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, The Ides of March, Moneyball and War Horse.

Looking closely at the HFPA's voting over the past decade, it becomes apparent that members select their nominees to satisfy their own tastes and prejudices, but they ultimately select their winner to satisfy their audience. They vote for what they think they're supposed to like, based on what's regarded as hip (by the general public) and/or hot (by pundits) when they fill out their ballots.

That explains why their winners have so rarely overlapped with Oscar's, which considers its final ballots only weeks later, after a wave of sentiment may have already come and gone. Over the past decade, the HFPA chose The Aviator over Million Dollar Baby, Brokeback Mountain over Crash (which it didn't even nominate), Babel over The Departed, Atonement over No Country for Old Men, Avatar over The Hurt Locker, and The Social Network over The King's Speech. The two bodies agreed on only A Beautiful Mind, Chicago (the only musical/comedy winner over the past decade that also won with the Academy), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Slumdog Millionaire.

My sources tell me that HFPA members are split between three nominees: The Descendants, The Help and Hugo. Hugo offers great entertainment from a master filmmaker (Martin Scorsese), but, being a family film at heart, strikes me as a bit too light for their taste. The Help offers them a chance to embrace a film with a bit more seriousness, in the sense that it is a period piece that deals with important questions of social conscience. But The Descendants strikes me as the most likely winner. It features the work of an A-list director and star, has been warmly received critically and commercially, and feels most like the movie of the moment -- at least among those in this category.

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THE CLASS OF 2012's GLOBES HISTORY

  • Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady (actress): 26 noms, 7 wins
  • John Williams, War Horse (composer): 23 noms, 4 wins
  • Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris (writer, director): 13 noms, 1 win
  • Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs (actress, song): 12 noms, 2 wins
  • George Clooney, The Descendants (actor), Ides of March (writer, director): 12 noms, 2 wins
  • Martin Scorsese, Hugo (director, producer): 10 noms, 2 wins, Plus DeMille Award
  • Kate Winslet, Carnage, Mildred Pierce (actress): 9 noms, 2 wins
  • Jodie Foster, Carnage (actress): 7 noms, 2 wins
  • Madonna, W.E. (songwriter): 7 noms, 1 win
  • Alexander Payne, The Descendants (writer, director, producer): 7 noms, 2 wins
  • Howard Shore, Hugo (composer): 6 noms, 3 wins
  • Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball (screenwriter): 5 noms, 1 win

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GOLDEN GLOBES BY THE NUMBERS

  • $22 million: Total HFPA assets listed on its 2010 tax return
  • $7.5 million: Income from the Globes on HFPA's 2010 tax return
  • $2,572: Income the HFPA had in 2008 when the Globes were cancelled
  • 1,300: Seated guests inside the ballroom for the Globes telecast
  • 4,000: Guests who come to the afterparties
  • 10,000: Pieces of sushi made for the afterparties
  • $9,000: Price of a ticket to the Globes being offered on Craigslist
  • $3,000: One broker's price for a ticket to the InStyle/Warner Bros. party
  • 50: Chefs hired to prepare food for dinner and the afterparties
  • 9,000: Glasses of Moet & Chandon served on the red carpet and inside the ballroom