So the 82-voting members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. have punted.
They’re either unable or unwilling to designate any sort of Oscar front-runner and so have nominated as many as 12 films for either best film, drama or comedy, for the 65th Annual Golden Globe Awards. Sprinkling their gold dust everywhere, the group handed out nominations for dramas, seven in all, for films such as “Atonement,” the WWII tale of love thwarted by a child’s overactive imagination, to Ridley Scott’s ode to drug lords “American Gangster,” to the Coen brothers’ violent modern-day western “No Country for Old Men.” And there were the five nominees in the musical or comedy category including “Sweeney Todd,” based on the Sondheim musical about a barbarous barber; “Hairspray,” based on the film and the Broadway play; the unplanned pregnancy comedy, “Juno” -- and on and on . . . .
Some of these films, such as “Across the Universe” and “Charlie Wilson’s War,” haven’t set the critics afire, but what does that matter, when Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks can be nominated and invited to the party?
At least the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is providing an accurate reflection of the malaise and confusion of this Oscar season, in which there’s no “Titanic"-like film destined to scoop up awards, and enough anxiety around to spark a run on Xanax. Given the fact that the Writers Guild of America has not yet revealed whether it plans to picket the awards derby or specifically the Golden Globes, no one even knows for sure whether the stars will show up to be feted, swagged, and fussed over.
It’s been many years since the award season has seemed so off-point. After 9/11, the media all worried that corporate-manufactured fun would be in bad taste, that as the need for irony had putatively ended, so went the demand for red carpets and hoopla. In fact, the opposite was true -- better to have a party in the face of terror. Six years later, the opposite might prove true, as the industry is gripped by an increasingly vituperative battle between the artists and the suits about how the pie is going to be divided when all content begins streaming over the Internet.
Typically a wide-open Oscar field means one thing -- studios will spend and spend and spend to try to nab one of those all-important gold statuettes. If there’s no consensus on merit, then the old Hollywood adage kicks in: Let the money do the talking.
Already, before a single film had won even a single critics’ award, the studios had begun plying tastemakers with an unusually heady array of invitations, intimate get-togethers with every star willing to hawk their wares. Have a drink at Il Cielo with George Clooney, the urbane star of “Michael Clayton.” Or tea with Ang Lee, or crumpets with the entire “Atonement” gang, from the beautiful Keira Knightley to the stalwart Vanessa Redgrave.
Rubbing noses with the famous is swell, and it’s nice that every marketing person who ever studied Oscar-campaigning under the tutelage of grandmaster Harvey Weinstein now has a paid strategizing gig at one of the studios, but this year, of all years, the studio-financed hoopla seems out of sync with the tenor of the industry.
So here’s a modest proposal.
Let’s take the $100 million or so that the studios collectively shell out on the awards race and use it to solve the writers strike.
No doubt if you asked the audience members which would they rather see -- a new season of “24,” “Desperate Housewives” and the sequel to “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels and Demons,” or stars prattling on about their Marchese outfits or actually discussing the strike with Ryan Seacrest -- the majority would opt for scripted programming.
Partying as the town burns will certainly be strange, and make no mistake about it, the Golden Globes has always been more about the party. No one puts “Golden Globe winner” on his or her tombstone, but good times have often been had during the soiree at the Beverly Hilton, as the stakes are low and the champagne flows freely. The festivities, scheduled to air on NBC on Jan. 13, are a boon to the network, so it seems doubtful that the show will somehow miraculously be granted a waiver from the WGA, allowing it to hire real writers to write the banter and stars to attend without crossing a picket line.
It’s hard to imagine this year’s Golden Globes retaining their customary festiveness. Will writer-hyphenates like Tina Fey or the Coen brothers enjoy clinking glasses with their corporate overlords like Jeffrey Zucker and Robert Iger when they’re fighting for their future? Already the town’s social fabric is beginning to fray, as studio bosses slink down in their limos and avoid eye contact with the picketing A-list writers they used to entertain at their homes.
“It casts a pall over the celebratory feelings,” says writer-director-animator Brad Bird, nominated for “Ratatouille,” about the possibility of a picket line. “As a WGA member, I don’t want to do anything that’s going to wreck or impact the negotiations. . . . It’s hard to even talk about.”
Yet others think at least chowing down with the moguls will not be an issue. “I’ve always had a friendly relationship with the studios that I’ve worked for,” says “Charlie Wilson’s War” writer Aaron Sorkin. “Universal has been nothing but great to me, so I don’t think that’s going to be a big problem.”
Unfortunately, for those who are nominated, their work is now getting overshadowed by rancor spilling out of the AMPTP-WGA negotiations.
And the foreign press nominations do reflect some accurate trends in the business -- i.e., no one wants to see any topical films dealing with weighty subjects like the war in Iraq. Indeed, save for two nominations for Clint Eastwood for writing the music for “Grace Is Gone,” the terror movies, like “In the Valley of Elah” and “Rendition,” were completely shut out.
“Atonement,” Joe Wright’s adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel, took the most nominations and it is the film that most walks and talks like past Oscar winners, particularly those of “The English Patient” variety.
The foreign language category again provides some of the most thought-provoking films of the year, among them “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “Lust, Caution,” “The Kite Runner” and “Persepolis.” Giving the increasingly globalization of the film business, only one of the nominees -- “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” about the industry no-no topic of abortion -- was made without Hollywood involvement.
On the film side, the Hollywood foreign press largely rewarded the usual suspects, giving more nominations to those who’ve been feted before, stars like Denzel Washington (“American Gangster”), Cate Blanchett (“Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” “I’m Not There”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Savages”), Daniel Day-Lewis (“There Will Be Blood”), Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks (“Charlie Wilson’s War”) and George Clooney (“Michael Clayton”).
Among the newcomers who’ve emerged from the pack are stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody, and 20-year-old actress Ellen Page, the writer and star, respectively, of “Juno,” the comedy about teen pregnancy that was nominated for best motion picture -- comedy or musical. Fox Searchlight, which released the movie, launched a promotional blast Thursday morning by parking a plexiglass “Junoverse” truck in front of the Beverly Hilton, where the nominations were announced.
The bright orange truck offered a window into Juno’s cluttered bedroom -- crammed with Emily Strange posters, stuffed animals and an unmade bed. “Isn’t it cool?” Page said. “But, no, I haven’t driven it around town yet. I’m not that cheesy.”
Page said she would be thrilled to be able to attend the Globes with Cody. “Oh, yeah, we’ll be at the bad table,” she laughed. The young actress said she was unsure how the writers strike would affect her or Cody’s decision to attend the ceremony. “I fully support the writers, is all I can say at this point,” Page said. “I really don’t know what the situation is or if I will attend.”
Times staff writers Sheigh Crabtree, Martin Miller and Elena Howe contributed to this report.
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“The Great Debaters,” Denzel Washington-directed civil rights tale.
“Atonement,” romantic drama.
“There Will Be Blood,” epic drama about a greedy oilman.
“American Gangster,” mob hit.
“No Country for Old Men,” the Coen brothers’ take on a modern western.
“Eastern Promises,” visceral film noir.
“Michael Clayton,” legal thriller.
Best comedy or musical
“Hairspray,” a cotton-candy adaptation set on the eve of civil rights era.
“Across the Universe,” romance set against a Beatles soundtrack.
“Juno,” a teen’s coming-of-age tale.
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” Tim Burton’s bloodthirsty adaptation of the classic musical.
“Charlie Wilson’s War,” a carousing congressman steps up.