For a movie that once looked like it might never make it into theaters, "Slumdog Millionaire" continued its remarkable ascendancy Thursday, as the love story of an Indian game show contestant collected four Golden Globe nominations, including top drama, director and screenplay.
While "Slumdog Millionaire" did not capture the most nominations -- voters of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. handed five nominations to "Frost/Nixon," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Doubt" -- its Golden Globe recognition marked another step in the film's fairy-tale journey.
"You do feel a bit like Cinderella getting invited to the ball," said Christian Colson, the producer of "Slumdog Millionaire," which also was nominated for original score. "You have all these troubles, somebody waves a magic wand, and suddenly you're at the party."
Soon after director Danny Boyle completed filming his movie in Mumbai this year, his American distributor, Warner Independent Pictures, was shut down by parent studio Warner Bros. Warners then considered a number of options for the film, including releasing "Slumdog Millionaire" straight to video, before selling the film's domestic distribution rights to Fox Searchlight (Warners is now sharing Fox Searchlight's costs and revenues).
"What a result, eh?" Boyle said. "It's an extraordinary feeling. The film is a rags-to-riches story -- but the fate of the film is the same. I've never had anything like this recognition for my other films," said Boyle, whose credits include "Trainspotting" and "Millions."
Leonardo DiCaprio, who starred in Boyle's "The Beach" and was nominated for a best dramatic actor Globe for "Revolutionary Road," a Dec. 26 release about a suburban couple's crumbling marriage, said he too was roused by "Slumdog Millionaire." "That is some movie," the actor said.
The 85 voters who make up the HFPA are not considered influential (and sometimes not even credible) journalists, and Golden Globe winners do not always repeat at the Academy Awards.
Because the organization gives several awards in two movie categories -- drama and musical or comedy -- its batting average is deceptively high. Last year's top Globe pictures, "Atonement" and "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," each went on to win only one minor Oscar, and "Sweeney Todd" wasn't nominated for a best picture Academy Award.
Last January's Golden Globe show was derailed by the Writers Guild of America strike, which kept nominated actors from attending the awards ceremony. The resulting news conference/envelope opening in which winners were announced went largely unwatched. Yet the Golden Globes can bring awards momentum to a number of films and performances.
In addition to "Slumdog Millionaire," the HFPA voters nominated "Benjamin Button," "Frost/Nixon," "The Reader" and "Revolutionary Road" as best dramatic motion picture. In the Golden Globes musical or comedy competition, the nominees were "Burn After Reading," "Happy-Go-Lucky," "In Bruges," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Mamma Mia!"
The dramatic actor selections were DiCaprio, Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon"), Sean Penn ("Milk"), Brad Pitt ("Benjamin Button") and Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler"). Nominated for dramatic actress were Anne Hathaway ("Rachel Getting Married"), Angelina Jolie ("Changeling"), Meryl Streep ("Doubt"), Kristin Scott Thomas ("I've Loved You So Long") and Kate Winslet ("Revolutionary Road").
In the musical or comedy category, the actor nominations were Streep ("Mamma Mia!), Rebecca Hall ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), Sally Hawkins ("Happy-Go-Lucky"), Frances McDormand ("Burn After Reading") and Emma Thompson ("Last Chance Harvey"). For musical or comedy actor, the Globe selections were Javier Bardem ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), James Franco ("Pineapple Express"), Dustin Hoffman ("Last Chance Harvey") and Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson (both from "In Bruges").
Several performances and movies that had been singled out by awards prognosticators as favorites were overlooked.
Neither "Milk" nor "Doubt" was nominated for best drama. "Australia" failed to get a nomination, and Michael Shannon, who gives a riveting performance as a mentally unstable dinner guest in "Revolutionary Road," also was overlooked in the supporting actor race. Clint Eastwood, who directed himself as a curmudgeonly veteran in "Gran Torino," was not nominated for dramatic actor.
While unthinkable to "Slumdog Millionaire's" makers just a few months ago, its competing against the other dramatic films represents a classic David versus Goliath story.
"Slumdog Millionaire" (at $14 million) cost less than a tenth of "Benjamin Button" ($150 million), a Dec. 25 story about a man who ages backward. And while "Slumdog Millionaire's" cast is populated with many nonprofessionals, , it faces films starring established stars and veteran performers such as Pitt, Langella, Winslet and DiCaprio.
"We weren't looking for awards nominations or box-office earnings," said screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, who turned the novel "Q & A" into the "Slumdog Millionaire" script. "We were looking to make the most joyful representation of Mumbai, and it's repaid us a million times over."
The benefit isn't limited to "Slumdog Millionaire." At a time when audiences are not supporting highbrow dramas, any awards attention can be hugely helpful in raising awareness and selling tickets.
"In the last 15 years, it's actually about the only way that films that are not high-concept and salable in a 15-second spot or a poster can really gain a footing in the marketplace," said Ron Howard, the director of "Frost/Nixon." "It was cool before. Now it's essential."
Horn is a Times staff writerCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times