Over the past 20 years only once did a film win here without its director being nominated: "Scent of a Woman" (1992). Now the helmers of three films in the race for best drama picture are also up for best director — "No Country for Old Men," "American Gangster" and "Atonement" — so it's safe to assume that one of them will triumph. "No Country" and "Atonement" seem to have the most support within HFPA. I suspect that "Atonement," which has the most noms (seven), will be the champ, but it's a close call and I'm holding off at this point from making an outright prediction.
Tim Burton, "Sweeney Todd"
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"
Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
Ridley Scott, "American Gangster"
Joe Wright, "Atonement"
Often the awards for best director and picture don't line up like they do at the Oscars. In fact, the two categories split 5 times in the past 7 years (10 times in the past 20). That's because voters like to spread the love around. If they go for "Atonement" for best picture, they may want to give the director's trophy to the Coens for "No Country." And they may want to do so for another reason. After two decades of past noms ("Fargo," "The Man Who Wasn't There" — but not "O, Brother, Where Art Thou," which made the Oscar list), the Coens have reached icon status. That's who voters favor in this category, opting, for example, for Robert Altman ("Gosford Park") the year they picked "A Beautiful Mind" as best drama picture. "Atonement's" Joe Wright can win. Rookie Sam Mendes triumphed when his "American Beauty" did in the best-pic race, but the most venerable veterans tend to get their due here. That's the chief voting trend.
And that's why relative newcomer Schnabel probably doesn't have a strong chance. The esteemed Ridley Scott holds a big I.O.U. — the Globes went for Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger") the year "Gladiator" won — but "Gangster" doesn't have artsy pretention.
That leaves us with the most curious contender in this contest: madcap Tim Burton. He's an icon and overdue for Globe notice (he's never even been nominated), but his chances are hurt by his "Sweeney Todd" being stuck in the comedy/musical lineup. Over the past 40 years only twice has the helmer of a film on that list claimed the laurels. John Huston won for "Prizzi's Honor," which claimed that best-pic trophy, too, for a film that really belonged in the drama race. Also, Barbra Streisand triumphed for "Yentl," and that was probably just because voters love to slobber over celeb helmers like they do at the Oscars. Heck, the Globes even gave this award Clint Eastwood for "Bird" the year that "Rain Man" won best drama pic (1988). Huh?
In Burton's favor is that "Sweeney" has artistic pedigree, being a Sondheim Broadway classic. I know of a few HFPA members who consider "Sweeney" to be their favorite film of the year, but I don't know how strong its support is among other voters. Not yet.
BEST DRAMATIC ACTOR
George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"
Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood"
James McAvoy, "Atonement"
Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises"
Denzel Washington, "American Gangster"
Washington has already won twice: once in lead ("The Hurricane"), once in supporting ("Glory"). Ditto Clooney: "O, Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Syriana." However, Clooney's Cool Quotient continues to grow in Hollywood, so he may be immune to any been-there-done-that sentiment like Jack Nicholson (the Globes' biggest winner) used to be.
Day-Lewis has lost five times and is outrageously overdue and voters know that. His performance in "There Will Be Blood" has swept the critics' awards, but the same was true for "Gangs of New York" and he came up a loser at the Globes and Oscars. He plays devilish monsters in both films. This time things may be different, though, because there's widespread acclaim for "Blood" compared to major disappointment in "Gangs."
McAvoy's performance is probably too low key. The foreign press really like "Eastern Promises" and Viggo, who's never been nominated, but there may be stronger forces at play in this race — Clooney and Day-Lewis — and it's unclear which one has the most muscle at this point.
BEST DRAMATIC ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
Julie Christie, "Away From Her"
Jodie Foster, "The Brave One"
Angelina Jolie, "A Mighty Heart"
Keira Knightley, "Atonement"
Forget Blanchett and Foster. They're category place-holders. The other three have a serious shot. Consider the case of Julie Christie. While there's an obvious age curse at the Oscars (notable exception: Helen Mirren), not the Globes — they've given this award to Sissy Spacek ("In the Bedroom"), Judi Dench ("Mrs. Brown") and Brenda Blethyn ("Secrets and Lies") in recent years. Christie, age 66, is not only aces on screen here, but "Away from Her" is a mesmerizing, underrated movie that many people want to champion. That ra-ra may help.
But, as everyone knows, the Globes love superstars and Jolie is at her apogee on the pop-culture scene right now. She gives a bravura turn in "Mighty Heart," but the film failed commercially and it's old news. Voters are member of the foreign press whose gazes are fixed on what's hot and new in America.
Keira Knightley is just the kind of lovely ingenue they adore. She faces a problem of limited face time in "Atonement," but that didn't hurt Nicole Kidman who had the smallest role among the leading ladies in "The Hours," which won best drama picture.
This seems to be a matchup between Christie and Knightley. Too close to call at this point.