International performers make presence felt

Tom Wilkinson in "Michael Clayton"

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The Golden Globe film actors race, as it's shaping up right now, could easily be dominated by overseas thespians. Acclaimed performances from Spanish, French, English and Swedish actors might well result in a slew of nominations for the likes of Javier Bardem (Miramax's "No Country for Old Men"), Marion Cotillard (Picturehouse's "La Vie en Rose"), Daniel Day-Lewis (Paramount Vantage's "There Will Be Blood"), Tilda Swinton (Warner Bros.' "Michael Clayton"), Max von Sydow and Mathieu Amalric (both for Miramax's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly").

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has always demonstrated a penchant for veteran British performers in period pieces; but here, the number of foreigners in contention seems particularly notable -- and also fitting for such an international organization.

Their presence comes on top of a respectable contingent of powerhouse American performances, particularly in the drama categories at the Globes, which divides its lead actor awards into drama and comedy/musical. By contrast, the comedy/musical side of the race is among the leanest in years, thanks to a shortage of memorable comedies and few musicals.

What follows is a breakdown of the main contenders for each award.

Actor (Drama)

Two performers have been dominating recent talk about the lead actor award -- and they couldn't be more different.

One is British "actor's actor" Day-Lewis, transforming himself into a larger-than-life Texas oilman for the turn-of-the-century tale "There Will Be Blood." The other is that quintessential American movie star, George Clooney, getting dollops of praise for playing the title role of the jaded lawyer who takes a moral stand in "Michael Clayton."

Both are familiar to Globe voters: Clooney is a two-time winner for 2000's "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and 2005's "Syriana." Day-Lewis is a four-time nominee who has yet to take home Globe gold.

They could be joined by several awards-game veterans: Denzel Washington as a 1970s mafioso in Universal's "American Gangster"; Tom Hanks as a U.S. congressman in Universal's "Charlie Wilson's War" (though the HFPA might deem Hanks a comedy category contender); and Russell Crowe -- Washington's co-star in "Gangster" -- for Lionsgate's "3:10 to Yuma," pitting him against co-star Christian Bale. (Crowe is also likely to contend in the supporting category for his work in "Gangster.")

Other established actors who are possible nominees include Chris Cooper (Universal's "Breach"), Benicio Del Toro (Paramount/DreamWorks' "Things We Lost in the Fire") and Tommy Lee Jones (Warner Independent's "In the Valley of Elah").

Don Cheadle could also be in the mix, after his widely praised turn as a real-life DJ in Focus Features' "Talk to Me." And co-stars Mark Ruffalo and Joaquin Phoenix could both compete for lead actor nominations for their work in Focus' "Reservation Road."

Previous Globe winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (2005's "Capote") has been earning praise for his work in ThinkFilm's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," but he could find two other supporting parts drawing more attention: his role as a jaded academic coping with his father's decline in Fox Searchlight's "The Savages" and, especially, his performance opposite Hanks in "Charlie Wilson's War."

Like Hoffman, Josh Brolin has made his mark in a number of films this year. Of the many males in the "No Country for Old Men" cast, he's the only one being pushed as a lead actor.

Del Toro has drawn support for "Things We Lost in the Fire," but tepid enthusiasm for the movie could diminish his chances.

Among the newcomers -- or relative newcomers -- getting attention this year are Emile Hirsch, who played the doomed real-life Christopher McCandless in Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" (Paramount Vantage), and France's Amalric as a real-life journalist paralyzed by a stroke in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."

New to the Globes is veteran Canadian star Gordon Pinsent, up for his role as Julie Christie's husband in Lionsgate's "Away From Her." Closer to home is Brad Pitt, who won the best actor award at the Venice Film Festival for Warner Bros.' "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

Actress (Drama)

If Marion Cotillard continues to gain momentum for her role as Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose," it could be only the third time in history, after Leslie Caron in 1964 and Anouk Aimee in 1967, that a French actress had the chance to win the Golden Globe.

But just like political candidates, awards candidates can lose steam. Should that happen, there are some distinguished actresses ready to snatch the bauble. Among them: movie icon Julie Christie, playing a woman with Alzheimer's in Sarah Polley's adaptation of the novella "Away From Her," and fellow Brit Keira Knightley, reteaming with director Joe Wright on Focus Features' "Atonement." Australia's Cate Blanchett could be the first actress to win twice for playing the same character. She resumes the role of Queen Elizabeth I in Universal's "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," after winning the Globe for 1998's "Elizabeth."

Angelina Jolie has drawn praise for playing another real-life character, though a far more contemporary one: Mariane Pearl in Paramount Vantage's "A Mighty Heart." Though the film has not gained traction in the awards race, Jolie's performance has won fans.

Two HFPA favorites are also in the running: Nicole Kidman (Paramount Vantage's "Margot at the Wedding") and Julia Roberts ("Charlie Wilson's War") -- though the HFPA might decide that Roberts belongs in the supporting actress category.

Previous Globe winner Charlize Theron is also in contention with a heavyweight drama, "In the Valley of Elah." And so is HFPA-familiar Halle Berry with "Things We Lost in the Fire."

Jodie Foster, much respected among HFPA members, might be recognized for Warner Bros.' "The Brave One," even though the movie isn't a typical awards-oriented release.

On the foreign front, Chinese newcomer Tang Wei made a splash as an accidental spy in Focus Features' "Lust, Caution."

And Laura Linney -- an actress many believe is long overdue for awards recognition -- also registered strongly in "The Savages," though there is some debate about whether the Globes will consider that a comedy rather than a drama.
   
Actor (Musical or Comedy)

Where are the comedy actors when they're needed?

With few awards-oriented comedies this season -- and few performers registering in musicals -- the Globes will have to scramble to fill five nomination slots.

Two veterans, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, could contend against each other in the lead category for Warner Bros.' comedy "The Bucket List," from Rob Reiner.

A much younger actor, Ryan Gosling, who recently made a mark with his very dramatic turn in 2006's "Half Nelson," might be back -- this time in the comedy category for MGM's "Lars and the Real Girl."

Johnny Depp, attempting his first screen musical with Paramount's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," is another front-runner. Depp also has another chance as Jack Sparrow in Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," though insiders feel his "Sweeney Todd" odds are much better. (Unlike the Oscars, there is no restriction on the number of nominations an actor can receive in each category.)

Two Judd Apatow films have spawned contenders: John C. Reilly in Sony's "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" and newcomer Seth Rogen in Universal's "Knocked Up." But the newest face who might get Globe recognition isn't really an actor at all: Glen Hansard, a musician initially hired to compose the score for Fox Searchlight's "Once," was subsequently cast as the film's lead.
   
Actress (Musical or Comedy)

If insiders find the race for best actor in a comedy/musical a bit lean, the actress race is even more so.

Nikki Blonsky could strike gold with her exuberant role in New Line's "Hairspray," a remake of John Waters' 1988 movie, as could Canadian newcomer Ellen Page, who has made a splash as a pregnant teenager in Fox Searchlight's "Juno." Equally prominent among newcomers is Marketa Irglova, a Czech musician making her feature film debut in "Once."

In the comedy area, look for Katherine Heigl to get recognition for her role in "Knocked Up." Keri Russell could also receive a nod for her turn in the Fox Searchlight sleeper hit "Waitress."

With few musicals to choose from besides "Hairspray," the HFPA could turn to Helena Bonham Carter for her role as Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd."

Beyond these potential nominees, much will depend on definitions and whether the HFPA chooses to push Linney into the comedy category, rather than drama.
   
Supporting Actor

This is shaping up to be one of the strongest races in years.

Among the front-runners is Max von Sydow, the revered Scandinavian star who came to fame with Ingmar Bergman's films, built an international body of work and is currently performing in French in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."

British thespian Tom Wilkinson, who made his mark in the 1997 comedy "The Full Monty," then solidified it with his Oscar-nominated turn in 2001's "In the Bedroom," has been drawing praise for his role as a lawyer who has a mental breakdown in "Clayton."

Von Sydow and Wilkinson might be joined by John Travolta, appearing in drag in the musical "Hairspray"; Casey Affleck, at last emerging from his older brother Ben's shadow, with his role as the killer in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"; and stage and screen veteran Hal Holbrook, capping a six-decade career with some of his finest work as the lonely old man who takes a much younger man under his wing in "Into the Wild."

Sure to be considered are Ben Foster, who, as a psychotic villain, nearly stole the thunder of leads Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in "3:10 to Yuma," and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a CIA agent in "Charlie Wilson's War," one of several films he stars in this year.

Ethan Hawke is drawing attention for ThinkFilm's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"; Paul Dano is getting a positive response for his portrayal of a young hellfire preacher in Paramount Vantage's "There Will Be Blood" (radically different from his comedic turn in 2006's "Little Miss Sunshine"); and Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones are drawing raves for their work in "No Country for Old Men."

Crowe might contend for "American Gangster," giving him the chance to get two nominations this year, if the HFPA recognizes him in the lead for "Yuma." The same could be true of co-star Josh Brolin, if he's also nominated for "Old Men."
   
Supporting Actress

The intense race for supporting actor contrasts with the relative absence of major contenders for supporting actress -- a testament to Hollywood's continuing inability to create strong roles for women.

British veteran Tilda Swinton has emerged as an early favorite for her portrayal of a cutthroat corporate attorney in "Clayton." This would be Swinton's second Globe nomination after 2001's "The Deep End."

An even more established British actress, Vanessa Redgrave, was also drawing praise for the one spectacular scene she has in "Atonement." That could create an intriguing possibility, with two other actresses up for the same role, playing younger versions of Redgrave's character: Romola Garai and notable teen thespian Saoirse Ronan.

Another strong contender is Amy Ryan as a problem mother in Miramax's "Gone Baby Gone." Ruby Dee played a mother with a problem son in "American Gangster," and insiders are hoping a reservoir of affection for the veteran actress will lead to a nomination.

Jennifer Jason Leigh has been drawing praise as Nicole Kidman's sister in "Margot at the Wedding," the comedy-drama directed by her husband, Noah Baumbach.

And awards darling Meryl Streep is back with two films: New Line's "Rendition" and MGM's "Lions for Lambs." In one she plays a cold-hearted CIA executive; in the other, a passionate journalist being spun by a U.S. senator.

Jennifer Connelly, a Globe winner for 2001's "A Beautiful Mind," is in contention for her dramatic role as Joaquin Phoenix's wife in "Reservation Road."

Three veteran actresses -- all previous Globe winners or multiple nominees -- are also in the running: Olympia Dukakis for her role as a long-suffering spouse in "Away From Her"; Gena Rowlands as a nagging mom in Magnolia Pictures' "Broken English"; and Susan Sarandon, playing Tommy Lee Jones' wife in "In the Valley of Elah" -- a role that director Paul Haggis expanded when he knew Sarandon was on board.

"Hairspray" co-stars Queen Latifah and Michelle Pfeiffer are both vying for recognition. Pfeiffer is an HFPA favorite, with six prior nominations and one win for 1989's "The Fabulous Baker Boys."

Previous Globe winner Blanchett is in contention as supporting actress for playing a fictionalized version of Bob Dylan in the Weinstein Co.'s "I'm Not There," along with her lead role in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"; and Catherine Keener could follow her nomination for 1999's "Being John Malkovich" with another for "Into the Wild."

Among other foreign performers, Brazil's Fernanda Montenegro -- a previous nominee for 1998's "Central Station" -- is in the running for New Line's "Love in the Time of Cholera," while France's Emmanuelle Seigner will contend for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."
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