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'La La Land,' 'Moonlight' and 'The People v. O.J. Simpson' dominate the Golden Globes nominations

'La La Land,' 'Moonlight' and 'The People v. O.J. Simpson' dominate the Golden Globes nominations
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a scene from "La La Land." The film is nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards,including best motion picture musical or comedy. (Dale Robinette/Lionsgate via AP)

A trio of early awards season front-runners – "La La Land," "Moonlight" and "Manchester by the Sea" – made strong showings in the Golden Globes nominations, while a few potential contenders such as "20th Century Women," "Hacksaw Ridge" "and "Lion" received boosts and others, including "Sully" and "Silence," came up empty-handed.

In other words, for anyone looking to the Globes nominations to clarify the state of the Academy Awards horse race, things appear roughly the same as they did heading into Monday morning's announcement: this year's big three maintain their lead, while the rest of the pack gives chase.

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For everyone in Hollywood who received the happy pre-dawn call, though, word of a Globes nod was greeted with joy – no matter where it found them.

"I was on the toilet when I got the news," actor Simon Helberg told The Times by phone shortly after receiving his nomination in the supporting actor category for the period comedy "Florence Foster Jenkins." "A fancy Japanese toilet, and I accidentally hit the bidet button and – whoosh. … It was all in tune: the universe, the nomination, my bodily functions – it all culminated in a terrible, clumsy moment sitting on a Japanese bidet."

The fizzy, brightly colored romantic musical "La La Land" led the film pack overall with seven nominations, including best picture in the musical or drama category as well as nods for stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and director Damien Chazelle. The coming-of-age drama "Moonlight" followed closely with six nominations, including nods for best picture in the drama category, for the supporting turns of Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris and for director Barry Jenkins.

"Manchester by the Sea" – the wrenching story of an emotionally wounded man who becomes the guardian for his late brother's son – received five nominations, including best picture in the drama category as well as nods for director Kenneth Lonergan, actor Casey Affleck and actress Michelle Williams.

All three of those films are the type of small-scale, adult-oriented fare that can live or die by awards attention or lack thereof. Meanwhile, one of the biggest box office successes in this year's awards race, the sci-fi parable "Arrival," failed to score a nod in the drama picture category, though it did earn nominations for its score and for star Amy Adams.

For Ali, the forceful showing for "Moonlight," which has been drawing big crowds in its relatively limited release thus far, is an unexpected kind of vindication.

"None of us really anticipated any of this," said the actor, who plays a Miami drug dealer who takes a fatherless, rudderless boy under his wing. "We were just trying to do our best work and were there for the right reasons. ... Now to see people responding to our little film is pretty remarkable."

Irish director John Carney, best known for the sleeper musical "Once," was similarly gratified to see his 1980s-Dublin-set, rock-'n'-roll-infused, coming-of-age film "Sing Street" receive a nod for best picture in the comedy or musical category alongside the far more buzzed-about "La La Land."

"They couldn't be two more different films," Carney said. "['La La Land'] is a breaking-into-song musical, which I love, and in 'Sing Street,' like 'Once,' the singing is part of the drama of the characters who are trying to talk and can't really talk very well and they speak musically. The movie didn't make a lot of money, and in a sense it's a best kept secret, so it's really nice that they noticed it and honored it with a nomination."

On the television side, the acclaimed drama series "The People v. O.J. Simpson" led the field with five nominations. But, in a medium that grows ever more competitive and crowded by the day, a few shows that missed the Emmy Awards boat earlier this year got their moment to shine, including HBO's "Westworld," Netflix's "Stranger Things" and FX's "Atlanta."

When it comes to Oscar prognostication, it is generally treacherous to read too much into Globes nominations, which are made by fewer than 100 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. rather than film industry professionals and tend to spread the love toward populist popcorn fare as much as critical favorites. (The big winners at last year's Golden Globes Awards, "The Revenant" and "The Martian," were ultimately overtaken in the Oscar race for best picture by the drama "Spotlight," which had received just three Globes nods.)

But, particularly in an awards season like this one, in which there has been a fair amount of flux, the nominations can provide some sense of which films have the wind at their backs and which may soon sputter and fade.

The neo-western crime film "Hell or High Water" could gain some further traction from its three nominations, including nods for best picture in the drama category and for Jeff Bridges, who plays a Texas Ranger in pursuit of two bank-robbing brothers who are desperately trying to save their family farm.

"I have to say I was surprised – I feel like this is a little movie that could," said one of the film's producers, Carla Hacken, who credits the film's political overtones with giving it awards-season legs that other genre movies might not have.

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"People keep saying post-election that it's so timely," Hacken said. "Obviously in this sort of post-Trump world it seems to take on a different meaning. … But I think the idea of institutions screwing over hardworking middle-class America is timely no matter when you tell that story."

Of course, it wouldn't be the Golden Globes without some major curveballs. While there were no massive head-scratchers on the scale of last year's nod for "The Martian" in the comedy or musical category, there were a few notable snubs and surprises.

The raunchy, R-rated superhero movie "Deadpool" – a giant hit that it's safe to say no one is likely to have in their Oscar pool – snagged two major nods for best picture in the comedy or musical category and for the film's star, Ryan Reynolds. Meanwhile, actor Jonah Hill, a two-time Oscar nominee who was not considered to be on the awards season radar this year, scored a nomination for his turn in the dramedy "War Dogs," which received mixed reviews and underwhelming box office receipts.

Two films directed by industry stalwarts who have been staples of past awards seasons – Clint Eastwood's "Sully" and Martin Scorsese's "Silence" – were overlooked, while onetime Hollywood pariah Mel Gibson continued his 2016 comeback with three nods for his World War II drama "Hacksaw Ridge," including best picture in the drama category and director.

As in the past, the Globes nominees represented a blend of industry veterans and relative newcomers. Meryl Streep received her record 30th Globes nod for her turn in "Florence Foster Jenkins." On the other end of the spectrum, British actress Harris got her first nod for her role as a crack-addicted mother in "Moonlight," a role she had taken on with some hesitation.

"My concerns were that I didn't want her to fall into being a cliché," Harris said. "A role I did in three days that I didn't want to take on – and now I have a nomination for it!" She laughed. "This is crazy."

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Though the Globes are generally considered the Rodney Dangerfield of awards in terms of respect, they can always be counted on to deliver one of the most unpredictable – and, not coincidentally, booziest – shows on the awards-season calendar. While host Jimmy Fallon may not have the slash-and-burn style of last year's master of ceremonies, Ricky Gervais, this year's show, which will be held on Jan. 8, should deliver plenty of ego-puncturing irreverence.

Times staff writers Tre'vell Anderson, Mark Olsen and Deborah Vankin contributed to this report.

Twitter: @joshrottenberg

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