The plot for the season thickens

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In the wake of the disaster known as the 65th Annual Golden Globe Awards comes the last of the key guild indicators today, the list of five nominees for the top award of the Producers Guild Of America.

The biggest omission from what the rest of the major Guilds (WGA, DGA, SAG) have been doing so far is no producer love for "Into The Wild."

Otherwise the PGA's choices -- "No Country For Old Men," "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly" (co-produced by former PGA prexy Kathleen Kennedy), "There Will Be Blood," "Juno" and "Michael Clayton" -- are consistent with the other Guilds and would seem to indicate they are also the likely five nominees for Oscar's best picture honor roll.

Actually, with "Into The Wild" still a very viable shot, we have a situation of six films locked for five slots. Someone is going to be terribly disappointed come January 22nd.

The PGA list also effectively put the nail in the coffin for the two big Golden Globe best picture winners, "Sweeney Todd" (comedy or musical) and "Atonement" (drama), at least as far as the Academy is concerned.

Neither has received a single mention from the four major guilds nor are they scoring well in private and informal polling of Oscar voters over the last week (but as Hillary Clinton likes to say, 'Who cares about polls anyway?'). The Globes winners will have no impact on the Oscar race because Academy ballots were due in on Saturday.

By the way, several Academy voters were seen personally dropping off their ballots at Price Waterhouse's downtown headquarters on Saturday before the 5pm deadline. More voters than usual this year seemed to wait until the last possible moment to get their ballots in.

At any rate, for the acclaimed "Atonement" in particular, the Golden Globe win was at least a big psychological boost after what must have been a rather frustrating couple of weeks of being passed over by the Guilds. Director Joe Wright was so happy he said he was going skinny-dipping in his hotel pool.

Interestingly ,1996 Globe drama winner, "The English Patient" had seven nominations, same number as "Atonement," and both won the exact same two awards (music score was the other). "English Patient" went on to win nine Oscars including best picture but, unlike "Atonement" this year, it was a player in all the guild races.

The Guild's shut-out of the two Globes faves does present a fascinating and potentially unprecedented situation. Only once in its sixty-five-year history, at least in any records that the organization has kept, has there been a year (1955) when at least one of the Globe best picture winners (drama or variations of comedy or musical) did not go on to be nominated in the Oscar best picture category.

With newly crowned Globe champs "Sweeney" and "Atonement" seemingly on the bubble, or even the < i>ropes as far as their best picture Oscar chances stand, at the moment this could be the first year since '55 that the Hollywood Foreign Press truly has winners completely foreign to the Academy's nominee list.

Along with the fact that none of the HFPA's (six) best picture choices in the last three years matched the Academy's ultimate winner, it could be damaging to their proud reputation as a strong bellwether for Oscar.

Add this potential embarrassment to their strike-gutted awards ceremony this year (we're getting to that shortly) and this just might be a year the HFPA would like to forget.

Their choices in the acting categories however, Daniel Day-Lewis, Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Julie Christie, Marion Cotillard and Cate Blanchett were spot-on and all would seem to be locks for Oscar nods.

That is good news for the HFPA since they are also contending with the aggressive moves being made by the Broadcast Critics Association and their Critics Choice Awards which were unaffected by the strike and chose front runner "No Country For Old Men" as their best picture after being one of the few groups last year to mirror the Academy's choice of "The Departed."

As a sign the times may be changing, ads in Monday's Times for "No Country" trumpeted their three Critics Choice wins while their two Golden Globe wins were listed below in much smaller print.

The overall impact of this year's Globes will be muted due to the fact that their usual star-laden nationally broadcast awards extravaganza was crippled by the striking writers who got actors to agree to stay away.

To their credit the HFPA wanted to go on and preserve the dignity of their awards by turning it into a private, non-telecast event which would have drawn huge stars, lots of red carpet coverage and pretty pictures in People magazine.

But NBC, in a moment of bold greed, did not want to let the awards so go. So in order to save some ad dollars they came up with one of the most embarrassing hours in their storied history as "Access Hollywood" anchors Billy Bush and Nancy O'Dell robotically reeled off the names of the winners on a tacky set in their Burbank studio.

Nancy: "I think Julian Schnabel winning best director is a huge surprise. I thought the Coen Brothers would win. Who would think anyone else would win this one?"

Billy: (pause) "Good point."

It is no secret that NBC decided to take matters into their own hands after the HFPA refused to give their Globe network exclusivity and took over the official press conference announcement of winners, inviting most media outlets to participate including all the anchors from "Access Hollywood's" rival shows who took turns opening the envelopes.

Not once did NBC cut to the actual Globes event going on inside the Beverly Hilton or even acknowledge it other than a cursory mention at the top that the "Hollywood Foreign Press Association was releasing" it's list of winners.

Perhaps they didn't want to show rival ET anchor Mary Hart being treated as the biggest star of the night.

Not that the press conference was anything but a mere shadow of the usual Globe glitz. In fact it looked like the kind of stripped-down ceremony you might expect would occur in a time of a major war. And in some respects the one being waged by the WGA against the studios seems to fit.

The most cringe-inducing moment was when E! Entertainment anchor Giuliana Rancic professed her undying support of the WGA strike just before announcing some winners.

Considering what the HFPA and its good natured, but war-torn president, Jorge Camara have been through lately due to the strike, the remarks were met by deafening silence in the room.

The HFPA has taken a lot of hits in it's sixty five years, particularly in the press, but they are good people and have always survived no matter what is thrown at them.

As one person connected to the group said of this year's unfortunate circumstances,"What we are making here is lemonade."

The HFPA is deciding now how to deliver the actual awards to the winners. The idea of a "winners party" is being tossed around. That would certainly bring a much-needed sense of Golden Globe celebration and likely some positive press coverage as grateful winners shower their thanks on the group.The plot for The Season thickens Wednesday with the British Academy's announcement of their BAFTA nominations followed by the biggies, the 80th Oscar nominations just a week away on the 22nd.Place your bets now.

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