"Up in the Air" flies high

Making sense out of the Golden Globe nominations

Making sense out of the Golden Globe nominations

We’re still in the early phase of movie awards season madness – indeed, the Houston Film Critics Society won’t announce its winners until Saturday – but we’re definitely near the end of the beginning now that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has announced nominees for the 67th annual Golden Globes.

The actual winners won’t be named until Jan. 17, when NBC airs what’s bound to be must-see TV: A Golden Globes awards show improbably hosted by the acerbically iconoclastic Ricky Gervais. But it’s not too soon for eight utterly random observations: 

1. Does Golden Globe dominance automatically translate into Oscar front-runnership? Probably not. Still, it’s likely that much will be made of the fact that Up in the Air leads the pack with six nominations spread out over five categories. In contrast, the movie shaping up as its chief Academy Award competitor -- The Hurt Locker, which already has been named Best Picture by critics’ groups in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco, and returns to Houston screens on Friday – picked up only three nods.

2. And yet: Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow – heretofore best known as the filmmaker who gave us Patrick Swayze as a parachuting bank-robber in Point Break – did earn a place among the finalists for Best Director, Drama. Not incidentally, she’ll be making Golden Globe history as the first filmmaker ever to compete against her ex-husband – James Cameron (Avatar) -- in the category.

3. Some may be surprised to find Up in the Air in the Best Picture, Drama category – as opposed to Best Picture, Comedy or Musical -- considering how much the movie looks and sounds like a rom-com in 30-second television ads. But trust me: Once you see this quietly remarkable, zeitgeist-reflecting film for yourself, you’ll realize how spot-on the Globe voters are. And you’ll better appreciate why lead player George Clooney – aptly nominated as Best Actor, Drama – is emerging as a strong contender for Oscar gold as well.

4. On the other hand: Sherlock Holmes is up for Best Picture, Comedy or Musical, and Robert Downey Jr. is nominated for Best Actor, Comedy or Musical, thereby answering the troublesome question raised by the flick’s less-than-promising trailer and TV spots: Yes, we’re supposed to laugh at it.

5. Globe voters, they love them some star power. Which may explain why Clint Eastwood is up for Best Director – even though his Invictus failed to make the cut for Best Picture, Drama – while Lee Daniels (Precious) is the only director of a Best Drama contender to go unnominated. And why Julia Roberts grabs a Best Actress, Musical or Comedy nomination for the otherwise Globe-ignored Duplicity – remember that one? Someone? Anyone? Bueller? – while Zooey Deschanel gets bupkis for (500) Days of Summer (a Best Musical or Comedy hopeful that also landed a Best Actor nod for Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

6. To be fair, however: The Globe voters did acknowledge the subtly detailed, affectingly implosive performance of the relatively little-known Michael Stulhlbarg (Best Actor, Musical or Comedy) in Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man. It’s doubtful that Academy voters will be quite so discerning.

7. Congratulations to native Texan Woody Harrelson for his richly deserved Best Supporting Actor nomination: In The Messenger, he gives the performance of his career as an Army officer determined to maintain emotional distance while breaking tragic news to next of kin. And while we’re at it, kudos to adopted Austinite Sandra Bullock for landing two – count ‘em, two! – Best Actress nominations. In the Comedy or Musical class, she’s honored for her amusing turn as a workaholic redeemed by love in The Proposal. (Too bad she almost certainly will lose to the similarly double-nominated Meryl Streep.) In the Drama division, though, she’s even more impressive – and, yes, a much stronger contender – as the feisty force of nature that is Memphis matriarch Leigh Anne Tuohy in the season’s surprise smash hit, The Blind Side.

8. Unlike the Motion Picture Academy, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association does not offer glittering prizes in technical categories. There are no awards for costumes, make-up, editing, production design, special effects and sound effects -- categories in which Avatar can reasonably expect to excel on Oscar night. This means, of course, there will be plenty of time during the awards telecast for all those Globes that go to nominees who toil in television. (Hey! Tina Fey! Come on down!) But it also means that, by and large, most of the people who pick up awards will be people you’ve actually heard of. And let’s face it: You don’t want to see Ricky Gervais turned loose on helpless nobodies, do you?

Follow longtime Houston movie critic Joe Leydon on his movingpictureblog.

News_Golden Globes 2010_Sandra Bullock_The Blind Side
Sandra Bullock received two Golden Globe nominations: As best actress in a drama for "The Blind Side" (shown here where she plays Memphis matriach Leanne Tuohy) and best actress in a comedy or musical for "The Proposal." Courtesy photo
News_Golden Globes 2010_George Clooney_Up in the Air
"Up In The Air," starring George Clooney, led Golden Globe film contenders with six nominations, including best drama, best actor for Clooney and best director for Jason Reitman.
News_Golden Globes 2010_Glee_cast_overhead
The cast of "Glee" (clockwise from left): Jenna Ushkowitz, Chris Colfer, Cory Monteith, Amber Riley, Kevin McHale and Lea Michele. The TV musical comedy snared four Globe nominations
News_Golden Globes 2010_Gabourey Sidibie_Precious_closeup
"Precious" star Gabourey Sidibe was nominated for best actress in a drama.