Globe nominations do little to narrow field

"Sweeney Todd"

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Last week, The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. threw a monkey wrench into this year's awards season, nominating not five but seven movies in the best dramatic picture category.

In a typical Hollywood year, the awards race tightens following the mid-December announcement of the Globes nominations, with the best drama nominees seen as front-runners for the award that truly matters, the Oscar (along with one or two of the best musical/comedy nominees).

But this year, the Globes nominations only enlarged the pool of serious candidates.

"It seems like they didn't know what to do, and they randomly added films," says Bob Berney, president of Picturehouse, which has two awards contenders with "La Vie en Rose" and "The Orphanage."

Miramax president Daniel Battsek has a somewhat different take: "It's a demonstration of what everybody has been saying: There are a lot of quality movies this year."

Nor are the seven drama nominees and the five musical/comedy nominees the only quality movies to reckon with. Three well-regarded movies -- Miramax's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," Focus Features' "Lust, Caution" and Paramount Classics/DreamWorks' "The Kite Runner" -- were ineligible to compete in those categories, but all were nominated for best foreign-language picture.

This means there are in effect 15 films that are now bona fide Oscar contenders, a record at this stage of the game.

That is likely to vex all but the most bull-headed pundits as they attempt to read the tea leaves and determine which movies to bet on.

With seven nominations in all, "Atonement" would seem to lead the pack, a terrific boost for Focus Features, which has had a rough year at the boxoffice, but made up for it with a slew of nominations.

"Atonement" benefited from several strong female performances, allowing it to compete in the lead and supporting actress categories -- whereas more male-centric movies like "No Country for Old Men" (Miramax) and "There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage) were unable to do so.

So which pictures are the true front-runners?

"The ones that also got director nominations are the front-runners," Berney says.

Five of the movies earned nominations for their directors: DreamWorks/Paramount's "Sweeney Todd" (Tim Burton), "No Country for Old Men" (Joel and Ethan Coen), "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Julian Schnabel), Universal's "American Gangster" (Ridley Scott) and "Atonement" (Joe Wright).

The Coens come into the director race with their most acclaimed film since 1996's "Fargo" (and, interestingly, the first on which they have shared directing credit). "No Country" was named best picture by many leading critics' groups, and the movie's violence is less likely to trouble the HFPA than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' older membership.

"I don't see that as an element," says Battsek. "It is part and parcel of the genre of this particular film; none of it is gratuitous."

Schnabel brings to the table a best director prize from the Festival de Cannes (where "No Country" was overlooked), along with admiration from cineastes for his dazzling visual style.

Scott enters the field as one of the most admired directors in America, and one who has won neither a Globe nor an Oscar despite a body of work that includes awards-sprinkled movies such as 1991's "Thelma & Louise" and 2000's "Gladiator," along with modern-day classics "Blade Runner" (1982) and "Alien" (1979).

Wright has awed many Hollywood insiders with the visual mastery of this, his second picture -- in particular, one five-minute tracking shot that encapsulates the misery of war.

As for Burton, he has earned a reputation as one of Hollywood's great stylists and -- like Scott -- another who has been passed over by leading awards groups.

"Sweeney Todd" is the only one of the five musical/comedy nominees to receive a nomination for its director, giving it an edge to scoop the best pic prize -- though insiders warn not to discount the chances of Fox Searchlight's "Juno," which has gained added momentum from its terrific boxoffice opening.

If this is the landscape as it applies to the best picture sweepstakes, it's a different matter when it comes to the other major categories.

Daniel Day-Lewis emerged early as the odds-on favorite for the best dramatic actor prize thanks to his role as a ruthless oilman in "There Will Be Blood." After plucking almost all the top critics' awards, it is hard to imagine that anyone could beat him this year.

Among the other nominees, insiders say George Clooney (Warner Bros.' "Michael Clayton") has the best chance to prevail over Day-Lewis -- not entirely out of the question, given how adored Clooney is in Hollywood. Few expect the other dramatic actor nominees -- James McAvoy for "Atonement," Denzel Washington for "American Gangster" and Viggo Mortensen for Focus Features' "Eastern Promises" -- to pull off an upset.

For musical/comedy actor, the ever-popular Johnny Depp has the edge for "Sweeney Todd." Among the other nominees, Tom Hanks (Universal's "Charlie Wilson's War") might be hindered by having won so many times before. Double nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman (in the lead category for Fox Searchlight's "The Savages" and in support for "Charlie Wilson's War") could see voters split over where to favor him. Ryan Gosling (MGM's "Lars and the Real Girl") is arguably the most admired actor of his generation, but he drew more attention for his role in 2006's "Half Nelson." And another admired actor, John C. Reilly (Sony's "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"), might be hurt by having starred in a vehicle perceived as too lightweight for a major award.

In the best dramatic actress category, Julie Christie (Lionsgate's "Away From Her") is as close to a lock as it gets. Among the other nominees, Cate Blanchett (Universal's "Elizabeth: The Golden Age") is more favored for her supporting role as Bob Dylan in the Weinstein Co.'s "I'm Not There." Angelina Jolie might be handicapped by the general lack of enthusiasm for Paramount Vantage's "A Mighty Heart," in contrast to that for her performance. Keira Knightley has won kudos for her acting, but not quite enough to contend with Christie. And the much-loved Jodie Foster (Warner Bros.' "The Brave One") is contending with a movie that insiders suspect is too much of a "genre" picture to earn her the prize.

In the musical/comedy category, French actress Marion Cotillard is just as much a favorite as Christie thanks to her uncanny portrayal of Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose." If she wins, as expected, that would set up an interesting battle between this newcomer and the veteran Christie come Oscar time.

None of the other nominees -- Amy Adams for Disney's "Enchanted," Nikki Blonsky for New Line's "Hairspray," Helena Bonham Carter for "Sweeney Todd" and Ellen Page for "Juno" -- is a close rival.

All in all, predictions are a risky business. One of the best things about awards shows is their ability to surprise, and with a month of strategy and maneuvering still ahead of us, there is plenty of time for the odds to change.   


Influence of events: The Globes' relationship to the Oscars remains debatable

How closely do the Golden Globes mirror the Oscars? Not quite as closely as many Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. members might think.

"I really don't believe that there is any one award that serves as a precursor to the Oscars," says Tom Ortenberg, president of theatrical films at Lionsgate, the company behind this year's awards entries "Away From Her" and "3:10 to Yuma." "All awards committees have minds of their own. To suggest that one influences another is, unintentionally, a little bit insulting."

Insulting or not, last year, the Globes named "Babel" and "Dreamgirls" the winners of its two top awards, for best drama and best musical/comedy, respectively. While "Babel" received an Oscar nomination for best picture, it lost to "The Departed"; as for "Dreamgirls," it didn't get nominated at all.

In fact, while the Globes overlap the Oscars, they are hardly a 100% accurate litmus test for the Academy Awards.

In each of the past three years, the Oscar for best picture has gone to a different movie than the winner of either the best drama or best musical/comedy award at the Globes. That followed an eight-year run in which the best picture Oscar came from one of the two top prizewinners at the Globes.

Last year's victory for "The Departed" followed a year in which the Oscar went to "Crash," while the Globes went to "Brokeback Mountain" and "Walk the Line."

This divergence is hardly surprising, given that the Globes are determined by the HFPA's approximately 90 members, whereas the Oscars are awarded by the Academy's 6,500 members.

But insiders are unable to explain the growing discrepancy between the Globes' top awards and the best picture Oscar after so many years in which they were in sync.

It might have something to do with the Academy's own attempts to broaden its membership, adding a slew of younger members to a group that had become known for its conservatism and mainstream tastes.

Despite that, for now at least, the Golden Globes remain the best indicator of a candidate's chances come Oscar time. But if the gap widens, that could be bad news for the HFPA, which has built much of its credibility on the links between the two.
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