Comedies vs Dramas: The Face-Off

43 FEA Globes Carnage H
Sony Pictures Classics

As the Hollywood Foreign Press prepares to vote, the line between serious and lighthearted movies gets complicated.

The suspense is building. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has answered one question: Yes, Ricky Gervais will be back to host for the third time when the 69th annual Golden Globe Awards airs Jan. 15 on NBC from the Beverly Hilton.

But now there are a lot more questions surrounding exactly which films, TV shows and performances will be nominated Dec. 15. When it comes to movies, the HFPA choices can often seem quite, well … idiosyncratic might be the kindest way to put it.

The issue isn't just which films the group decides to nominate but in what category. Unlike the Oscars, the Globes have two categories for best picture, actor and actress -- one set for dramas and another set for musicals or comedies. And every year that triggers a controversy or two. Last season, Globes-watchers were left shaking their heads when romantic thriller The Tourist was treated as a comedy and its leads Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie both scored nominations.

Drama or Musical/Comedy?

Because Hollywood tosses out fewer musicals or comedies during awards season, the Globes' musical/comedy categories tend to be less competitive. And so studios, if they can get away with it, often prefer to steer a movie into the comedy lineup for a clearer path to noms and wins. In the case of certain dramedies, the line is genuinely vague, so distributors can legitimately claim a comedy slot. This year, a number of funny films deal with serious subject matter: 50/50 (cancer), Beginners (sexual orientation and cancer); Carnage (aggression) and Young Adult (narcissism) have been submitted for musical/comedy. There, they'll find themselves competing with two genuine comedies that are the clear front-runners: Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist and Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. And there also could be room for raucous comedies such as Bridesmaids and Horrible Bosses.

Disney tried to beat the system by submitting The Help, its 1960s Southern period piece as a comedy, but the HFPA, to its credit, vetoed the idea. Fox Searchlight and Sony considered submitting their respective films The Descendants and Moneyball in the comedy heat but ultimately decided against it. So those films will duke it out for a best drama slot with some of the films that have yet to be widely screened: War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Lead or Supporting?

One thing to watch in the acting categories is whether the HFPA will agree to the studios' requests to consider certain stars in specific categories or go rogue and nominate big names in whatever category it pleases. The group tends to favor A-listers in the lead categories, regardless of studio preferences. Sony Pictures Classics wants to see all four stars of Carnage, including Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet, treated as supporting players, and Warners is recommending that Loud's Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks also be put into the supporting races. But given the HFPA's track record, they could just as easily emerge as lead acting nominees, if they aren't ignored altogether. The same could happen to Bridesmaids scene-stealer and Emmy winner Melissa McCarthy.

Actors or Movie Stars?

While there are plenty of rising stars who have turned in awards-worthy work this year -- Michael Fassbender in Shame and A Dangerous Method, Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene -- the Globes voters prefer to lure the biggest stars possible to their party. That was the only explanation for those nominations for Depp and Jolie, who seemed a bit embarrassed by them. If the HFPA does insist on singling out big stars, it should opt at least for big stars in good films like Margin Call, in which Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore and Zachary Quinto all shine. The Globes might be able to get away with rewarding Depp for playing Jack Sparrow again -- he's received one nomination for that Pirates of the Caribbean role -- but not the godawful The Rum Diary. Jolie also could make a return appearance as director of In the Land of Blood and Honey, which is performed in Serbian with subtitles. That means it qualifies for the Globes' foreign-language film category, where Jolie would easily be the most glamorous contender. After all, Gervais is getting a pass, so why not Angelina?

THAT WACKY GLOBES CATEGORY: Over the last 30 years, 14 musical/comedy winners have gone on to earn Oscar noms, with four winning best picture.

  • 1983: Tootsie | Oscar nom
  • 1986: Prizzi's Honor | Oscar nom
  • 1987: Hannah and her Sisters | Oscar nom
  • 1988: Hope and Glory | Oscar nom
  • 1989: Working Girl | Oscar nom
  • 1990: Driving Miss Daisy | Best Picture winner
  • 1992: Beauty and the Beast | Oscar nom
  • 1996: Babe | Oscar nom
  • 1998: As Good As It Gets | Best Picture winner
  • 1999: Shakespeare in Love | Best Picture winner
  • 2002: Moulin Rouge! | Oscar nom
  • 2003: Chicago | Best Picture winner
  • 2004: Lost in Translation | Oscar nom
  • 2005: Sideways | Oscar nom
  • 2011: The Kids Are All Right | Oscar nom