Awards Watch: Golden Globes wrap

This year's noms will impact the Oscar race like never before

In the old days, it was all so simple.

Five movies were nominated by the Golden Globes for best drama and five for best comedy/musical -- and it was safe to assume that most of the drama nominees would get Oscar-nominated, with perhaps one of the comedy/musicals rounding out the five slots for best picture. With a few -- but very few -- notable exceptions, a movie not nominated for a Globe could pretty much kiss the Oscars goodbye.

Not any more.

Now with 10 best picture slots at the Oscars -- drawn from all genres and not divided into dramas and comedy/musicals -- the Globe nominations are likely to prove much different litmus test for the big prizes to come than in the past couple of years. If a drama is spurned, its quest for a best picture Oscar nomination might not be over. Conversely, more of the comedy/musical nominees for Globes should be considered frontrunners for Oscar noms.

It could have been different. If the Academy had opted to break its 10 slots down into dramas and comedy/musicals, like the Globes, the race would have been much clearer. But its board of governors considered that option and rejected it.

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Unlike the 83 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the Academy's 5,800 voters will have wide leeway when it comes to choosing their final 10, and may vote for any animated film, foreign-language picture or documentary released in the U.S. in 2009, in addition to live-action narrative features. By contrast, Globes voters may consider each film only within its specific category.

So what do the Globe nominations, which will be announced Dec. 15, offer for Oscar tea-leaf readers?

First, with 10 Academy slots, the five Globe dramas will be considered heavier favorites than before. Whereas in the past, one or two of them might not have made it to the Oscar finals, this time each will be deemed a near-lock to get Oscar-nominated.

These five films will go into the Oscars with a head of steam that other contenders simply don't possess. But any film that doesn't get nominated for best drama or for one of the other Globe best-picture categories should not necessarily give up. Even if nobody will seriously expect it to win a best picture Oscar, a nomination could still materialize.

Second, the Globes director race -- where five helmers will be nominated, just like the Oscars -- will be perceived as defining the leading candidates for best picture even more than before. Any movie whose director does not get nominated will go into the Oscars with a major handicap and the perception that it was one of the weaker candidates at the Globes. (The directors nominated for an Oscar will add even more heft to their films' chances in the best picture race, effectively creating an A list and a B list among the best picture nominees.)

Third, with 10 Oscar slots and such a wide array of pictures to consider, nominees for comedy/musical, animation or foreign-language will have a spotlight thrown on them that will up their chances for Oscar consideration. An unknown foreign film will be thought about as a more credible entry than before by Oscar voters who are overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices before them. A well-crafted campaign for a foreign-language Globe nominee, animated release or documentary could be much more worthwhile than it was when it comes to the Oscars.

That's if the movie is actually eligible for an Oscar, of course. Don't forget that the HFPA allows any foreign-language picture released in its own country roughly over the course of the previous year to contend, while the Oscars mandate that for a foreign-language movie to be eligible for best picture it must also have been released in the U.S.

"The one that can cross over is 'Broken Embraces,' " says Fredell Pogodin, a publicist who specializes in foreign-language releases. "It's not the official submission from Spain, but it may have some of the ingredients in a weak year."

One area where the Globes won't be a good guide is when it comes to blockbusters like "Star Trek." Such pictures have never been major contenders at the Globes, and they are unlikely to be this year -- but that doesn't rule out their chances of getting Oscar-nominated, where the Academy's industry-friendly membership may be more inclined to favor popcorn pictures.

"I don't think anyone says, 'This one did really well so I am going to vote for it,' " says producer and Academy member Steve Sabler. "But it's certainly not a negative with the Academy if it does well."

If "Star Trek" or "Avatar" or at least one major crowd-pleaser fails to make it to the Oscar 10, there'll be some serious head-scratching by the Academy's board, given that this was a big reason it upped the number of nominees in the first place.

One shouldn't under-estimate the Globes' impact. Both "Atonement" and "The Reader" were considered out of the awards race until the Globes nominated both for drama -- a decision subsequently reflected in the Academy's own choices. In recent years, only in 2006 was there a serious discrepancy between the two, when three Oscar nominees did not get Globe nominations: "Munich," "Crash" and "Capote."

One last factor could add to the Globes' influence over the Oscars: A date change. "The Dec. 15 Globe nominations are a full 13 days before the Oscar ballots go out, as opposed to in the past, where it was maybe eight days," notes awards marketing consultant Tony Angellotti. "(Academy members) will have more time to read the material printed about the Globes, because everyone from 'E.T.' to the New York Times to The Hollywood Reporter will cover them."

If this is the general lay of the land, how does it trickle down to prognosticating for individual pictures?

"There is no clear consensus at all," Stabler says. "Unlike last year, when eight out of 10 voters were saying 'Slumdog Millionaire' was their choice for best picture, this year there is no one film people seem to be leaning toward."

Four movies have emerged as leading Globe contenders in the drama category: The little-movie-that-could, "An Education"; Jason Reitman's satire-turned-drama "Up in the Air"; the urban drama "Precious"; and modern maestro Clint Eastwood's South African opus, "Invictus." All have had a terrific response from HFPA members.

Three other pictures could also contend: Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq War drama "The Hurt Locker"; Peter Jackson's return to serious drama, "The Lovely Bones"; and the yet-to-be-seen "Avatar," which enters awards season with a level of anticipation unmatched since "Gone With the Wind."

Of these, "Bones" may be adversely impacted by a slew of mixed reviews; "Locker's" early release date may damage its chances; and "Avatar" has so much to live up to, maybe not even James Cameron can deliver. Hanging in still are Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Michael Hoffman's period drama "The Last Station."

In the comedy/musical category, one comedy and one musical appear near-locks: Marc Webb's "(500) Days of Summer" and Rob Marshall's "Nine." Even if "Nine" has not garnered quite the praise of the Weinstein Co.'s last collaboration with director Marshall, "Chicago," Bob and Harvey are experts at maneuvering in the awards minefield. Nancy Meyers' "It's Complicated"; another Meryl Streep starrer, "Julie & Julia"; and "The Hangover" would also appear to be strong entries, if "Hangover's" occasional crassness doesn't offend HFPA voters. That leaves one slot. "Sherlock Holmes" may contend, having been entered as a comedy. And a little picture like "Serious Moonlight" could be this year's "In Bruges."

With no documentary category at the Globes, well-received titles like Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" or Frederick Wiseman's "La danse -- le ballet de l'Opera de Paris" may lose some steam going into the Oscars.

By contrast, more attention will be paid to the animation and foreign-language entries. "Up" is by far the strongest candidate in the former and a near-lock for an Oscar nom, possibly making it the first animated release since "Beauty and the Beast" to contend for best picture. Among the foreign-language Oscar contenders, everything will depend on whether the finalists have a U.S. release -- though in this area, the HFPA's taste historically has been quite different from the Academy's. Challenging material like Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" or the French prison drama "A Prophet" may be unable to convert Globe success into Oscar recognition.