Now that nominations are out, I'll have to resume snooping amidst Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. members soon and count up Golden Globe votes to give you the best spy report. Till then, here's my handicapping of the top film categories. Winners will be announced Jan. 17.
BEST DRAMA PICTURE
Forget "Avatar." Normally the HFPA scorns popcorn pix, so it's a miracle that the Golden Globes nominated it. "Precious" is probably out of it, too. Voters love it, but they're not bonkers about it like some other Hollywood insiders. They didn't nominate Lee Daniels for best director.
"The Hurt Locker" has momentum coming off its double victories at the voting conclaves of the New York and L.A. film critics in recent days, but little gritty indies don't win here unless they star Brad Pitt and other A-listers. (Think "Babel," which the Globes preferred over eventual Oscar champ "The Departed.")
Speaking of Pitt, he toplines a contender in this race that I've been warning you about for weeks, but my fellow Oscar bloggers refused to take seriously till yesterday (Critics Choice nominations — it led with the most) and today: "Inglourious Basterds." This category is a close race between "Basterds" and "Up in the Air," which led with the most nominations (six). When I checked in with Globers a few weeks ago, they were so Clooney crazy (the HFPA had been hanging out with him socially) that their views may have been clouded a bit. They told me that "Up in the Air" is ahead here. And, as of right now, it probably still is, but voters adore Quentin Tarantino and "Basterds" too.
It's hard to predict who'll win what because you don't see sweeps at the Golden Globes like you do at the Oscars. Voters like to spread their gold around. That means they might give Tarantino the award for best director and "Up in the Air" the prize for best picture. At the Oscars, those categories usually match up, not so at the Globes. What makes handicapping all the more complicated here is Clooney being in the race for best drama actor. Is that the category where they'll put their "Up in the Air" vote -- and only there?
Interesting side note: One of the two Globe awards for best pictures (drama, comedy/musical) usually wins the top Oscar, but not lately. The recipients have not matched up four times in the last five years.
BEST DRAMA ACTOR
This appears to be a close contest between Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart") and George Clooney. If "Up in the Air" wins best drama picture, that could spell doom here for Clooney. There are occasions when the star of a best picture also claims a chunk of gold (Leo DiCaprio and "The Aviator," Russell Crowe and "A Beautiful Mind"), but they often split up. Crowe didn't win best actor at the Globes for "Gladiator," for example. There's an outside chance we could see an upset by Colin Firth ("A Single Man") or Morgan Freeman ("Invictus"), but Tobey Maguire ("Brothers") is out of it.
BEST DRAMA ACTRESS
Most pundits say this is a race between Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious") and Carey Mulligan ("An Education"), and they may be right. I can't see Helen Mirren ("The Last Station") or Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side") winning here. Emily Blunt ("The Young Victoria") poses a serious upset threat.
BEST COMEDY/MUSICAL PICTURE
When successful musicals are nominated here, they usually win: "Sweeney Todd," "Dreamgirls," "Walk the Line," "Chicago," "Moulin Rouge," "Evita," etc. However, last year "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" beat "Mamma Mia," which was hugely successful at the box office ($600 million worldwide), but not a hit with critics (only 53% at RottenTomatoes).
So what about "Nine"? No consensus has yet formed at RottenTomatoes, but its early score is shockingly low (36%). If that trend continues, this Globe race is between "It's Complicated" and "The Hangover." Best bet is "It's Complicated," since it's packed with the kind of mature superstars the HFPA adores. Frankly, it's a miracle that the HFPA nominated "The Hangover." Usually, comedies with a fratboy sensibility don't do well. The Globes didn't nominate "Knocked Up" or "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
BEST COMEDY/MUSICAL ACTOR
Daniel Day-Lewis' smug, over-brooding, one-note performance is the problem with "Nine." His Guido character isn't adorable, as he should be, but that probably doesn't matter. He's Day-Lewis, by golly — The Great Thespian with High Cool Quotient — so he could win here. I haven't seen "Sherlock Holmes" or "The Informant" yet, so I don't know how to size up those roles. Michael Stuhlbarg is aces in "A Serious Man," but the fact that his movie isn't nominated for best picture probably hurts. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's movie, "(500) Days of Summer," is nominated, but his role is featherweight.
BEST COMEDY/MUSICAL ACTRESS
Don't make the mistake of thinking that Meryl Streep will automatically split her votes between "It's Complicated" and "Julie & Julia" and lose. Tim Robbins was double nominated for "The Player" and "Bob Roberts" in 1993 and won for "The Player." Her role in "Julie & Julia" is small compared to "It's Complicated," both in terms of screen time and emotional expression, but it may have the edge because she's portraying a real person.
Forget Marion Cotillard. She really plays a supporting role in "Nine." Forget Julia Roberts -- her surprise nomination is payoff enough. Sandra Bullock is Streep's chief contender here and she's a formidable one. Bullock probably has the edge considering she's had such an amazing year at the box office. She's also a double Globe contender, being also nominated on the drama side for "The Blind Side."
Photo: "Up in the Air." Credit: Paramount