Golden Globes forecast potential Oscar contenders

by Matt Hill | 1/16/06 6:00am

But to many others, of course, the Globes, which are chosen by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, have always served a more singular purpose: that is, to predict the outcome of the looming Academy Awards, or at least to illuminate the possible outcomes. It's true -- in the past, the Globes have come remarkably close to mirroring the Oscars, not only in their nominations but also in their winners. Last year, for instance, all five of the Academy's nominees for best picture -- "The Aviator," "Million Dollar Baby," "Finding Neverland," "Sideways," and "Ray" -- appeared among the films nominated at the Globes, either in the Drama category or the Comedy/Musical category. The difference was that, while the Globes honored "The Aviator" and "Sideways," the Academy went with Clint Eastwood's boxing flick -- an oddity, at least in recent years, but at least it made things exciting.

So what are the Globes forecasting this year? Well, besides the downfall of mainstream cinema and the rise of independent studios, we're looking at an exceptionally diverse and interesting field of contenders that, in many instances, could give rise to a few upsets in major categories. In the Best Picture (Drama) category, look for the much talked-about "Brokeback Mountain" to emerge over its admittedly strong competitors: "A History of Violence," "Match Point," "The Constant Gardener" and "Good Night, and Good Luck." In truth, only George Clooney's black-and-white flick, chronicling the journalistic exploits of Edward R. Murrow, poses any kind of threat to the cowboy love story, but it's nothing for director Ang Lee to worry about. Utah theater owners really shouldn't hold their breath.

The Best Picture (Comedy or Musical) category proves to be more interesting. While the clear favorite at this point is James Mangold's Johnny Cash biopic, "Walk the Line," a film that -- sporting phenomenal performances from its two leads, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon -- follows in the wake of last year's triumphant "Ray," there are a few dark horses that could pose a serious threat. One is "Pride and Prejudice," the umpteenth adaptation of the Jane Austen romance, that has successfully positioned itself the "feel-good" movie of the year. Another is Noah Baumbach's quietly brilliant divorce drama "The Squid and the Whale." While neither will likely overcome the legendary Man in Black, it's an interesting race that, should there be a surprising outcome, will shake up the Oscar race like a category four.

Moving on to the lead acting categories -- which, as they do with Best Picture, the Globes divide into two groups -- we're looking at two close horse races with many possible outcomes. For best female performance in a Drama, watch for Felicity Huffman, donning the duds of a transvestite in "Transamerica," to emerge victorious, with Charlize Theron ("North Country") and Gwyneth Paltrow ("Proof") nipping at her heels.

Meanwhile, in the male lead category, which is abnormally crowded with exceptional performances this year, it appears to be neck-and-neck between Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote") and Heath Ledger ("Brokeback Mountain"). While many pundits are now saying Ledger will, so to speak, emerge on top -- o, "Brokeback" jokes, when will we tire of ye -- I'm rooting for Hoffman, whose heartbreaking, spot-on portrayal of the morally ruined Capote was far and away the best performance I've seen in years.

The lead acting categories in Comedies or Musicals appear as though they'll constitute a clean sweep for "Walk the Line," as Witherspoon, as June Carter, and Phoenix, as Cash, seem to have their categories all but sewn up. While Witherspoon may run into trouble with a couple of British dames -- Keira Knightley ("Pride and Prejudice") and Judi Dench ("Mrs. Henderson Presents") -- Phoenix seems to be in safe territory, with only the possible threat of Jeff Daniels' performance in "The Squid and the Whale." Given that Jamie Foxx lip-synched his way to the podium last year, it seems only fair that Phoenix, who did his own vocals in "Walk the Line," should be his successor.

The supporting categories, as per the usual, are tougher to predict, but that makes them no less compelling. For best supporting actress, look for "Brokeback's" Michelle Williams, far removed from her days on "Dawson's Creek," to nab the win, eeking out Scarlett Johannson's turn in "Match Point." The male category is a bit more interesting, essentially coming down to Paul Giamatti ("Cinderella Man"), Matt Dillon ("Crash") and triple-nominee George Clooney ("Syriana"). Though the HFPA may be tempted to jump on the Clooney train that everyone seems to be riding right now, I think they'll feel sympathy for the oft-snubbed Giamatti and reward him for his role in Ron Howard's excellent yet commercially underperforming boxing movie.

And finally, we come to the director and screenplay categories. (Yes, I'm leaving out the music categories, as I really don't have that much of an idea, but let's just say John Williams' score for "Memoirs of a Geisha," and the Alanis Morissette song in "The Chronicles of Narnia," will win.) While Ang Lee appears to be a shoo-in for the former, the latter race is shaping up to be a battle between "Crash" and "Good Night, and Good Luck." They are, for better or worse, representative of the highly politicized nature of many of the year's best films. While my gut tells me "Crash" may pull through for the win, Clooney's three nominations, along with the possibility for "Good Night" to win best picture, tell me otherwise. Of course, ol' "Brokeback" could sneak in there, too, if the HFPA feels like making it a nice and tidy sweep. As with many of these types of things, you never know.

In all, more than anything, it seems that this year's Golden Globes -- if they're viewed as a predictor of what's to come in this hectic awards season -- foretell of an Oscar race that is in many ways wide open, filled with the diverse, thoughtful, provocative and socially-conscious works of many filmmakers, veteran and amateur, who are propelling American movies into a new era of intelligent cinema.

The Globes will air tonight on NBC at 8 p.m.

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