HFPA's formula differs from AMPAS'

GOLDEN GLOBES PREVIEW: Sizing up the Globe film contenders requires a look beyond the Oscar race.

Tradition holds that when the Golden Globe winners for best picture drama and musical/comedy are announced on Jan. 11, two front-runners will emerge in the race for the best picture Oscar.

But in all likelihood that won't be true this year, because the musical/comedy category is among the weakest in memory.

There's no "Shakespeare in Love" (1998), no "Sideways" (2004), no "Juno" (2007) -- lighter films that either won the Oscar for best picture or gave the eventual winner a serious run for its money.

Without a strong musical/comedy contender, the best drama winner will become the prohibitive favorite to scoop up this year's top Oscar. But it's not automatic.

Last year, "Atonement" seemed destined to win Academy kudos after being awarded the Globe drama statuette at the WGA strike-ravaged ceremony. Then the best picture Oscar went to "No Country for Old Men."

With a much smaller voting pool -- roughly 90 foreign journalists, as opposed to 6,000 voting Academy members -- the Globes and the Oscars often exhibit quite different tastes. Here's a breakdown of how the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.'s picks could differ from those of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Best picture -- musical/comedy

Comedy has always been slighted by the Academy -- indeed, the last outright comedy to win the best picture Oscar was Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" in 1978.

But the Globes have given comedy far more weight, and with only two musicals in major contention -- Universal's "Mamma Mia!" and, to a lesser extent, Disney's "High School Musical 3" -- some pure comedies are likely to be nominated.

The question is, which ones? Unlike for the Oscars, Disney/Pixar's "WALL-E" and DreamWorks/Paramount's "Kung Fu Panda" are eligible only for the best animated film Globe, not best picture. That leaves the race wide open.

Industry betting favors DreamWorks' "Tropic Thunder." Better received by critics than most comedies, it has the advantage of playing to insiders, and there's no more inside group than the HFPA. That might also help the Robert De Niro showbiz satire "What Just Happened" (Magnolia Pictures).

The Paul Rudd starrer "Role Models" (Universal) could also have a chance, especially after Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein plugged it as awards-worthy in late October.

So might Joel and Ethan Coen's "Burn After Reading," which is being given a strong push for the Globes by Focus Features.

Lionsgate is pushing "W." as a comedy, and producer Judd Apatow has Universal's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and Sony's "Pineapple Express," either of which could contend. The "Sex and the City" television show won eight Globes during its run, so don't be surprised if the film nabs a nomination.

The Dustin Hoffman-Emma Thompson romance "Last Chance Harvey" might earn Overture Films one of two possible picture nominations this year, if "The Visitor" gets nominated for best drama. "Harvey" will be helped by its topliners -- two HFPA favorites.

The Weinstein Co.'s "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," a return to form by "Annie Hall's" Allen, seems a lock, especially since it features such international talent as Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Rebecca Hall.

Best picture -- drama

The drama category is as strong as the musical/comedy category is weak. Contenders range from the ultra-low-budget "The Brothers Bloom" (Summit Entertainment) to "The Dark Knight," Warners' blockbuster of the year.

Universal enters the fray with two serious contenders, both produced by Imagine Entertainment: "Changeling" and "Frost/Nixon." And with producer Brian Grazer throwing his full weight behind each one, these will be serious candidates.

"Changeling" director Clint Eastwood will have his loyalties split between that and Warners' "Gran Torino," a situation somewhat reminiscent of two years ago, when he contended with "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima." Back then, "Flags" was considered the front-runner, but it was the much lower-budgeted "Letters" that gained traction; this time around, with "Gran Torino" still unseen by the press, it's hard to predict.

Grazer and Eastwood aren't the only industry heavyweights in this race.

Fresh from winning last year's best picture Oscar, producer Scott Rudin returns with a double-whammy of Miramax's "Doubt" and DreamWorks/Paramount Vantage's "Revolutionary Road" -- an echo of last year's combo of "No Country" and "There Will Be Blood."

Rudin might have been in the unprecedented situation of having three picture nominees, but he took his name off the Weinstein Co.'s "The Reader" after experiencing creative differences. TWC will also put its weight behind "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

Married megaproducers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall are back with Paramount's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a picture they have been trying to make for 19 years. And lest anyone think their chances are limited to their collaborations with Steven Spielberg -- Kennedy has been producing his movies since 1982's "E.T." -- remember she also produced Oscar nominees "The Sixth Sense" (1999) and "Seabiscuit" (2003).

Baz Luhrmann may not be a heavyweight producer, but he's undoubtedly a top director. He returns to the Globes fray after winning the musical/comedy Globe for "Moulin Rouge" (2001). This time he's contending with his epic "Australia" (Fox).

Rounding out the big-budget studio contenders is Sony's Will Smith starrer "Seven Pounds." Smith drew praise for 2006's Sony drama "The Pursuit of Happyness," and he earned a Globe and Oscar nomination for best actor for 2001's "Ali," but he has yet to carry a film that gets across-the-board recognition in awards season.

Almost all the other major Globe contenders come from the specialty divisions, or from a few well-heeled indies. They include "Defiance" (Paramount Vantage); "Milk" (Focus); "The Wrestler" and "Slumdog Millionaire" (both Fox Searchlight); "Happy-Go-Lucky" (Miramax); and "Rachel Getting Married" (Sony Pictures Classics).

Best director

It's tough to root for an underdog this year.

The race for best director will showcase some of the most prominent filmmakers in the world, whether Hollywood icons like Clint Eastwood ("Changeling," "Gran Torino") and Ron Howard ("Frost/Nixon"); stylists like David Fincher ("Benjamin Button") and Baz Luhrmann ("Australia"); New York outsiders like Woody Allen ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") and Jonathan Demme ("Rachel Getting Married"); indie upstarts like Gus Van Sant ("Milk") and Darren Aronofsky ("The Wrestler") or British semi-recluses like Sam Mendes ("Revolutionary Road"), Christopher Nolan ("The Dark Knight"), Stephen Daldry ("The Reader") and Mike Leigh ("Happy-Go-Lucky").

What all these helmers have in common is that they are known entities to moviegoers. There are few exceptions -- among them, John Patrick Shanley ("Doubt") and Thomas McCarthy ("The Visitor"), making their sophomore directorial outings.

While some of these filmmakers are new to the Globes (Van Sant and Aronofsky, in particular), there's not a new name in play this year. That's a contrast to recent years when promising newcomers like Craig Brewer (2005's "Hustle & Flow") and Julian Schnabel (2007's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") were all in contention.

Best screenplay

Unlike the Oscars, the Globes hand out only one screenplay award, rather than breaking it into original and adapted categories. The winner is almost certain to win one of the two writing Oscars.

Three contenders enter the field having taken on the challenge of adapting some acclaimed fiction: David Hare with Bernhard Schlink's "The Reader"; Justin Haythe with Richard Yates' "Revolutionary Road"; and Eric Roth and Robin Swicord with F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Two writer contenders have tackled their own plays. Peter Morgan, who most recently drew kudos for his screenplay "The Queen," returns with an adaptation of his Broadway triumph "Frost/Nixon." And John Patrick Shanley adapted his Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Doubt," which he also directed.

Four others have brought real-life characters to the screen: Clayton Frohman and Edward Zwick have taken World War II resistance fighters and made them the subject of "Defiance," and Stanley Weiser took a different kind of fighter and made him the subject of "W." Two notable figures in California history are the subject of original screenplays: Christine Collins, the young woman who lost her child in J. Michael Straczynski's "Changeling," and the flamboyant San Francisco politician Harvey Milk in Dustin Lance Black's "Milk."

Two other original stories enter the fray, even though we've all known their central characters for years: "The Dark Knight," adapted by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan; and "Quantum of Solace," the latest Bond adventure, from Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.

Among the most original screenplays of the year is Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter's "WALL-E." If it wins the Globe, it will be the first animated-film screenplay to do so.

Other contenders include Thomas McCarthy's "The Visitor"; Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky"; Jenny Lumet's "Rachel Getting Married"; and the Coen brothers' "Burn After Reading."

Robert D. Siegel will contend with "The Wrestler," as will Nick Schenk and Dave Johannson with "Gran Torino." Until press time, it was somewhat unclear who would be credited for "Australia," but the picture now seems likely to field four writers: Baz Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood and Richard Flanagan -- the most of any contender this year.

Then, of course, there's the tried-and-true auteur Woody Allen, a shoo-in for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

Best actor -- drama

Over the past three years, the Globes' actor (drama) race has been remarkably in sync with the Academy Awards, and this year should be no exception. Last year, Daniel Day-Lewis scooped up both awards for "There Will Be Blood"; the year before, Forest Whitaker did the same for "The Last King of Scotland"; and before that, Philip Seymour Hoffman hit the jackpot with "Capote."

But the Globes differ from the Oscars in allowing an actor to be nominated for more than one role within each category -- a factor in 2007's race, when Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for both "Blood Diamond" and "The Departed."

This year, DiCaprio is in contention again for both Warner's "Body of Lies" and "Revolutionary Road," but it's for the latter that he should have his best chance.

Other actors with two movies in contention will likely be considered in different categories -- like Brad Pitt (lead for "Benjamin Button," support for "Burn After Reading").

The bigger question is whether single performances by some actors will be considered in the lead category or support. That could prove especially interesting with Hoffman ("Doubt") and Michael Sheen ("Frost/Nixon").

Major contenders include Sean Penn ("Milk"), Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler"), Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon"), Clint Eastwood ("Gran Torino") and Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor"). Others are Will Smith ("Seven Pounds"), Hugh Jackman ("Australia"), Benicio Del Toro ("Che"), Ben Kingsley (Samuel Goldwyn's "Elegy") and Greg Kinnear (Universal's "Flash of Genius").

Best actor -- musical/comedy

As competitive as the best actor (drama) race is, so the best actor (musical/comedy) race is wide open.

Lionsgate's decision to label "W." a comedy will likely help star Josh Brolin nab a nomination. And Javier Bardem could contend for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," but only if the HFPA deems the film a comedy.

Also having a strong chance is George Clooney, beloved by the HFPA (and the rest of Hollywood) and likely to do better with the Globes than the Oscars for his comic turn in "Burn After Reading."

The men of "Mamma Mia!" -- Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan -- could make a strong showing, especially if the film does well overall.

Industry favorites Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro could score noms for their their Hollywood satires "Tropic Thunder" and "What Just Happened," and Paul Rudd is in play for "Role Models," which he also co-wrote.

Other possibles are Seth Rogen (the Weinstein Co.'s "Zack and Miri Make a Porno"), James Franco ("Pineapple Express") and Jason Segel ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall").

Best actress -- drama

Two awards veterans are likely to return to the nominations lineup -- though it's not entirely clear for which films. Meryl Streep is in contention for both her role as a vindictive nun in "Doubt" and her singing, dancing turn in "Mamma Mia!" There's nothing to prevent her from being nominated for both, though "Mamma" will figure in the musical/comedy category.

Kate Winslet returns with both "Revolutionary Road" and "The Reader," taking a shot at lead for the former and support for the latter.

Globe winner Cate Blanchett could also be back with "Benjamin Button," her only awards movie this year, after being a double-contender last year with "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and "I'm Not There" (nominated for both, she won for the latter).

After being slighted at the Oscars for last year's labor of love "A Mighty Heart," Angelina Jolie shouldn't be counted out for her role as a real-life mom with a bad case of the blues in "Changeling. Jolie has been nominated at the Globes four times and won three, in contrast to the Oscars, where she won for 1999's "Girl, Interrupted" but has received no other noms.

Another international star, Nicole Kidman, could also be in play with "Australia."

But two relative newcomers may have just as good a chance of getting their first Globe nominations: Anne Hathaway, who took even fans by surprise with her compelling role as a troubled wedding guest in "Rachel Getting Married"; and Sally Hawkins, playing the most "Happy-Go-Lucky" character ever to inhabit a Mike Leigh movie.

Hawkins likely will be joined by fellow Brit Kristin Scott Thomas, acting in French in SPC's "I've Loved You So Long."

If Keira Knightley, yet another Brit, gets nominated for Paramount Vantage's "The Duchess" (she's also more popular with the HFPA than with the Academy, with two Globe nominations versus one Oscar nom), and if Emma Thompson makes it in the musical/comedy category for "Last Chance Harvey," that could at last give validation to Colin Welland's 26-year-old promise, "The British are coming!"

Best actress -- musical/comedy

Look for Meryl Streep to pick up her 22nd nomination for "Mamma Mia!" -- but she's just about the only near-lock in this category, the thinnest of any this year.

Emma Thompson likely will for "Last Chance Harvey," but that still leaves three slots unaccounted for.

Streep's "Mamma" co-star Amanda Seyfried could pick up a nod. Elizabeth Banks' turn as the first lady in "W." might sway voters.

The two leads of Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" could both be nominated. Newcomer Rebecca Hall (also seen this year in "Frost/Nixon") and Globes regular Scarlett Johansson (already a four-time nominee at the age of 23) would add to Allen's long track record of creating awards-winning roles for his actresses.

Best supporting actor

With a host of top-notch actors competing for the five best actor (drama) slots, awards spinners are going all out to convince voters that at least two of the contenders should be considered in supporting rather than lead.

One is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who may seem to be at the center of "Doubt" but who appears in less than 50% of the film, according to its makers.

The other is Michael Sheen in "Frost/Nixon." Insiders will recall that Sheen was believed a near-lock to be nominated for his performance as British Prime Minister Tony Blair in "The Queen," only to be overlooked thanks to all the attention given to Helen Mirren. In an attempt to counter that, Universal is pushing Sheen for support in his role as David Frost, rather than have him compete in the same category as Frank Langella, who takes the much showier role of Richard Nixon.

Sheen and Hoffman could be welcome additions to a rather tepid supporting actor race.

Others in the running include Michael Shannon for his role as a genius with psychological issues in "Revolutionary Road" and two actors from "Burn After Reading" -- Brad Pitt and John Malkovich -- although Malkovich is also being pushed in the category for "Changeling."

"Milk" offers a trio of contenders -- Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch and James Franco -- though inside baseball favors Brolin.

Rounding out the contenders are Liev Schreiber in "Defiance" and two of "Tropic Thunder's" stars, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise.

Then there's Ralph Fiennes, a double-contender for "The Duchess" and "The Reader."

The great unknown is how the HFPA will treat the late Heath Ledger ("The Dark Knight"). Insiders expect him to receive a nomination but are less sure whether he'll win.

Best supporting actress

Always the toughest category to predict, this race pits some veterans versus near-unknowns.

The newcomers are Viola Davis, paying a struggling mother in the drama "Doubt," and Hiam Abbass as the unlikely romantic foil for Richard Jenkins in "The Visitor."

They'll be up against some of the best-regarded actresses in the world, including Kathy Bates ("Revolutionary Road"), Emma Thompson ("Brideshead Revisited") and Penelope Cruz, a shoo-in for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

Davis may have some votes siphoned away by Amy Adams, drawing raves for "Doubt." And it's unclear whether Cruz will lose votes to co-star Scarlett Johansson, although Johansson could be considered in the lead actress category.

In a very thin race, other contenders include "Mamma's" Christine Baranski and four actresses from "The Secret Life of Bees" -- Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo and Jennifer Hudson. Her recent tragedy would tend to favor Hudson, but "Bees" is not otherwise seen as a major contender.