Critical decisions

Our film critic's assessment of the Globes' film nominees.

Motion Picture (Drama)
Like "Brokeback Mountain" last year, Paramount Vantage's "Babel" leads the Golden Globes pack with seven nominations. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's multistrand, multilingual drama clearly has struck a chord with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. But with awards momentum building for Helen Mirren's exquisite performance as Elizabeth II, the crown might yet go to Miramax's "The Queen." A more modest, less "cinematic" offering than its rivals in this category, "Queen," directed by Stephen Frears, nonetheless delivers in every department.

Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy)
Comparing the satire of Fox Searchlight's "Thank You for Smoking" to the megaglam of Paramount/DreamWorks' "Dreamgirls" is a fine example of how absurd awards season can be. "Smoking," Searchlight's "Little Miss Sunshine" and Fox's "The Devil Wears Prada" are all terrifically funny films that take chances. No wallflower in terms of risk-taking is Fox's ultrairreverent "Borat," which would be the real upset here, in more ways than one, if it were to nab the award. And while stranger things have happened at the Globes, this is shaping up to be the year of "Dreamgirls."

Actress (Drama)
Penelope Cruz's earth goddess (Sony Picture Classics' "Volver"), Judi Dench's needy manipulator (Searchlight's "Notes on a Scandal"), Kate Winslet's desperate housewife (New Line's "Little Children") and Maggie Gyllenhaal's recovering addict (IFC Films' "Sherrybaby") are four indelible performances from some of the finest actresses working in film. But Mirren might need to build a new room to contain all the plaques and statuettes she'll receive this year for "Queen," and the Globes will be no exception. Hers is a breathtaking portrayal of a familiar figure that transcends impersonation and digs deep.

Actress (Musical or Comedy)
These five disparate performances range from a relative newcomer (Beyonce Knowles in "Dreamgirls") to two highly regarded film veterans -- Annette Bening (Sony's "Running With Scissors") and Meryl Streep ("Devil") -- who continue to astonish. Bening receives her nomination for impressive work in a film that hasn't been warmly received; Streep, who has taken home Globes for work on the small screen (2003's HBO film "Angels in America") and a supporting film performance (2002's "Adaptation") is likely to add a leading-role Globe to her collection for her brilliantly nuanced fashion editor from hell.

Actor (Drama)
Leonardo DiCaprio's work this year in Warner Bros. Pictures' "Blood Diamond" and "The Departed" represents something of a breakthrough to complex adult roles. But with his votes split between two nominations, the leading contenders are Forest Whitaker for his thoroughly compelling portrayal of Idi Amin in Searchlight's "The Last King of Scotland" and Peter O'Toole for his elegant and elegiac turn in Miramax's "Venus." Deep affection for a decades-long body of work could give O'Toole his fourth Globe and his first since 1970, for "Goodbye, Mr. Chips."

Actor (Musical or Comedy)
For spectacle alone, we'd all like to see Sacha Baron Cohen/Borat accepting an award at the wine-laden Globes soiree. And it looks like more than an idle wish, given the impact of "Borat" and the added cachet of his nod from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. Should members of the HFPA opt for a more conventional performance, Will Ferrell's relatively toned-down turn in Sony's "Stranger Than Fiction" has a strong shot.

Neither of Clint Eastwood's two films about the Battle of Iwo Jima (Paramount/DreamWorks' "Flags of Our Fathers" and Warners' "Letters From Iwo Jima") was nominated in the best picture category, and his double nominations here will work against each other. The race -- and it's a tough one -- is between Frears ("Queen") and Martin Scorsese ("Departed"), with the latter likely to take the prize for his wildly entertaining cops-and-mobsters thriller.

The race comes down to two of the best screenplays to be produced in many years. In "Departed," William Monahan gives us the kind of sharp, crackling dialogue that's all too seldom heard in films anymore, and the actors' delight in digging into those lines is apparent. But Peter Morgan might have the slight edge for his literate, incisive script for "Queen," which uses a light hand to convey provocative ideas and create complex characters.