“Cold Mountain,” director Anthony Minghella’s sweeping Civil War love story based on the bestselling novel, may have captured eight Golden Globe nominations Thursday, but an underdog racehorse, a drunken department store Santa and two strikingly mature teenage actresses also captured the heart of the Hollywood foreign press as the movie awards season shifted into high gear.
Themes of war, violence and revenge dominated the best dramatic picture category, in which each nominee was adapted from a popular book. Along with “Cold Mountain,” Golden Globe nominations went to Part 3 of Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” Peter Weir’s swashbuckling “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” Clint Eastwood’s brooding murder mystery “Mystic River” and Gary Ross’ uplifting horse racing saga “Seabiscuit.”
A jubilant Ross, whose picture was released last summer, took a page from the heroic feats of the real, scrappy thoroughbred when he commented on how it feels to see this picture surge late in the year against a tide of holiday releases. “We may be a long shot, but he’s used to being a long shot,” said Ross, who also wrote the adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller. “People have been betting against Seabiscuit since 1939.”
Now in its 61st year, the Golden Globes is still Hollywood’s guilty pleasure. Often derided because some of its 90 or so members write for obscure foreign publications and have been wined and dined by the studios over the years, the Globe nominations have more importance to the Oscar race this year than the winners do. That’s because the Academy Awards are on an earlier schedule this season, with Oscar nominations announced Jan. 27, two days after the Globes are handed out; the Oscars will be awarded Feb. 29, a month earlier than normal. (The Globes will be announced on Jan. 25 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and telecast on NBC.)
This year’s Globe nominations also may reflect the impact of the aborted ban on so-called movie screeners -- tapes and DVDs sent to awards voters -- that was imposed this fall by the Motion Picture Assn. of America to fight film piracy. Independents who were not subject to the ban, which was overturned this month, seem to have had an impact as the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. singled out numerous smaller films for recognition, including three films from indie distributor Lions Gate Films: “Shattered Glass,” “The Cooler” and “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”
Other small films flexing their muscles with various nominations were “Monster” from Newmarket; “Bend It Like Beckham,” “In America” and “Thirteen” from Fox Searchlight; Fine Line Features’ “American Splendor”; Dimension Films’ “Bad Santa” and United Artists’ “Pieces of April.”
The star of “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” an ecstatic 19-year-old Scarlett Johansson, said she was smiling through her runny mascara as she expressed joy at being nominated not only for best actress for that period drama but also for the contemporary comedy “Lost in Translation.”
She joins Evan Rachel Wood, 16, in the drama category for her role as a rebellious teen in “Thirteen.” Either would be the youngest winner honored by the Golden Globes for best actress.
“It’s amazing to be in both categories,” Johansson said from the movie set of “A Good Woman” outside Rome. “Every actor struggles with trying to be both comedic and dramatic.”
“Cold Mountain,” based on Charles Frazier’s novel, now has to be considered one of the front-runners in the race for Oscar gold. The Miramax picture, which opens Christmas Day, grabbed Globe nominations for Nicole Kidman for actress, Jude Law for actor, Renee Zellweger for supporting actress and Minghella for directing and screenplay.
“We are not an event picture, we are not a franchise picture, we are not an action picture,” Minghella explained from Sydney, Australia, where he’s promoting the film. “It’s about people in the past, but it’s full of emotion and full of yearning.”
For the third year in a row, a film in Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy scored a best picture nomination, although New Line Cinema, which released the film on Wednesday, has to be disappointed that it received only four nominations and none for the actors who portray the colorful citizens of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
Fran Walsh, Jackson’s writing and producing partner, said she realizes a film like “Lord of the Rings” faces long odds in both the Golden Globes and the Oscars because it is not a traditional drama. None of the film’s actors were recognized by Globe voters, nor was its screenplay.
“It’s an uphill battle for the actors and the screenplay to get recognition because the film is perceived as a fantasy,” Walsh said from New Zealand.
The screener ban could also have helped movies that were released earlier on DVD such as “Finding Nemo” and “Bend It Like Beckham,” both nominated for best musical or comedy, and “Seabiscuit,” whose DVD sales are expected to equal the $100-million-plus mark of its domestic theatrical box office.
Director nominee Eastwood on Thursday acknowledged he wasn’t pleased with the ban, saying, “It was kind of silly when the studios went from giving out thousands of screeners to all of a sudden zero,” and added that the studios need to police themselves before “pointing the finger” at others for allowing movie piracy to flourish.
In a year with a large number of films expected to be in contention for Academy Awards in major categories, the Globe nominations could serve as a signpost for the roughly 6,000 Oscar voters who will choose their nominees next month. But while the motion picture academy takes a serious approach to dispensing awards, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. likes to sprinkle its votes with glamour. And this year is no exception.
* Tom Cruise, a perennial Oscar wannabe and a three-time Globe winner, is back again as best actor contender: this time as the 19th century American soldier-turned-Japanese-warrior in “The Last Samurai,” though the film itself was noticeably absent from the best picture and best director categories.
* Cruise’s former wife, Kidman, who has won the Golden Globe the past two years, is also back again, this time as a Southern belle in “Cold Mountain.”
* Heartthrob and former winner Russell Crowe picked up another nomination with his performance as the gallant British naval officer Jack Aubrey in “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”
* Renee Zellweger’s supporting role as a tough Southern farm woman in “Cold Mountain” was her fourth Globe nomination in a row.
Joining Crowe, Cruise and Law for best actor were Sean Penn for “Mystic River” and Ben Kingsley for “House of Sand and Fog.”
Kingsley, who plays an Iranian military exile living in Northern California, said this nomination was meaningful because he loved the nuanced role.
“I think [first-time director] Vadim [Perelman] fought like a tiger to get this made,” the actor recalled. “The battles he had. The staying up all night, only eating Snickers bars and bottled water.”
The battle for best dramatic actress pits Kidman, Johansson and Wood against Australian actress Cate Blanchett in the little-seen “Veronica Guerin,” Charlize Theron, who sheds her glamour image to play an overweight murderess in “Monster,” and Uma Thurman as a samurai sword-wielding, revengeful widow in “Kill Bill -- Vol. 1.”
Unlike the motion picture academy, the Hollywood Foreign Press hands out statuettes in both drama and musical or comedy categories. In the latter this year, the films receiving nominations include “Bend It Like Beckham,” “Big Fish,” the animated “Finding Nemo,” “Lost in Translation” and “Love Actually.”
The most difficult category to handicap -- and one that promises to be the most fun -- is the best actor in a musical or comedy with wild-and-crazy rocker Jack Black in “School of Rock,” over-the-top pirate Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” laconic Bill Murray as a movie star with a midlife crisis in “Lost in Translation,” perennial bad boy Jack Nicholson playing a perennial bad boy in “Something’s Gotta Give” and tabloid fave Billy Bob Thornton as a drunk, crude St. Nick in “Bad Santa.”
“I’ve never been nominated for no prizes,” said a groggy Black, who awakened early to hear the news. “It feels great. I love that I’m up there with all those other people. It doesn’t look like it’s a list of just comedy actors, but just hard-core actors. It makes me feel pretty hard-core.”
Thornton, in Phoenix to play a concert with his band and Alice Cooper and REO Speedwagon, said he was surprised to hear he was nominated for a holiday film.
“In fact,” he quipped, “I’m surprised when I get another job.”
Among the actresses in the comedy/musical matchup, it is teenager Johansson squaring off against four veterans: Jamie Lee Curtis as a fortysomething mom who switches bodies with her teenage daughter in “Freaky Friday,” Diane Keaton as a fiftysomething playwright who falls in love with her daughter’s boyfriend in “Something’s Gotta Give,” Diane Lane as an American divorcee who moves to Italy in “Under the Tuscan Sun” and Helen Mirren as a British housewife and mother who poses nude with her friends for a fundraiser in “Calendar Girls.”
“For me, it’s particularly sweet to come now in my life when I expect nothing,” Keaton said of the Globe nomination. “This is the greatest. What do I have to say but ‘Wow!’ This part is important for all of us women who are middle-aged. It is a triumph for us. I’m so proud to be the representative in this particular instant.”
There was also a passing of the torch, so to speak, with this year’s nominations. Three decades ago, Francis Ford Coppola picked up Golden Globes for best director and screenplay for “The Godfather.” On Thursday his daughter Sofia, who appeared as an infant in her father’s film, was nominated for director and screenplay for “Lost in Translation.” It is only the fourth time a woman has been nominated for director by the foreign press; Barbra Streisand has been the only winner, for 1983’s “Yentl.”
“For me, it was kind of a personal project I wanted to make, but I didn’t know if anyone could relate to it,” said young Coppola, who this week won best director from the New York Film Critics Circle.
She will face Eastwood, Jackson, Minghella and Weir.
On the TV side, the dominant presence was HBO’s six-hour “Angels in America,” whose seven nominations included recognition in best miniseries and movies made for television category as well as acting nominations for six of its ensemble cast. Meryl Streep, a Globe winner last year for her supporting performance in the film “Adaptation,” was nominated in the lead actress in a TV movie or miniseries category, while Al Pacino, who won a decade ago for “Scent of a Woman,” earned a lead actor nomination for his performance as outspoken New York lawyer Roy Cohn.
The controversial TV movie “The Reagans,” which CBS dumped off to much smaller pay-cable sister station Showtime in the face of protests about the project’s depiction of the former first family, earned two acting nominations, for James Brolin and Judy Davis as Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
Times staff writers Rachel Abramowitz, John Horn, Lorenza Munoz, Lynn Smith and Jonathan Taylor also contributed to this story.