Searching for Oscar hints in Golden Globe nominations

Is "Dragon Tattoo" off the list? What about Spielberg? Salon critics analyze the picks with an eye on the future

Published December 15, 2011 6:30PM (EST)

Andrew O'Hehir:

Since the Golden Globes nominate both films and actors in two streams of categories -- what they call "drama" vs. "musical or comedy" -- they have the luxury of not winnowing down the awards race at all, and just handing things out promiscuously. So you have to look at the Globe nominations and ask, in effect, "Which of these things does not belong here?"

For instance, I have difficulty believing that "The Ides of March," "50/50" or "Bridesmaids" are legitimate Oscar contenders, and all three of those just got best-picture nods from the Globes. (Given that we don't know how many films the Academy will nominate, I suppose their presence creates intriguing possibilities.) Similarly, there were some improbable nominations in the acting categories. No one seriously expects Brendan Gleeson or Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Kristen Wiig to be among the nominees on Oscar night -- which is not in any way a suggestion that their work doesn't deserve it. I'm strictly playing horse-race analyst here.

Still, in the categories where the Globes have only five nominees, they have a strong predictive record. Look at the best director category: Woody Allen, George Clooney, Michel Hazanavicius (of "The Artist"), Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese. Now, Clooney's name is a pretty big surprise on that list; I'd have expected to see David Fincher or Steven Spielberg instead. But it's a highly plausible list. Ditto for the screenplay category, where the nominated films are "Midnight in Paris," "The Ides of March," "The Artist," "The Descendants" and "Moneyball."

There are a few things we can say with reasonable clarity, some positive and some negative. On the positive side, "The Artist" is for real. As weird as it still seems that a black-and-white silent film by a French director could be a leading Oscar contender, it clearly is. "The Ides of March" and "Moneyball," two films that did not do well at the box office and got mixed reviews, are clearly still in the money in various categories. Ryan Gosling -- who was nominated for best actor for both "Ides" and "Crazy, Stupid, Love" -- was not poisoned for awards voters by his year of ridiculous media overexposure. Pretty much all the major actors we were expecting to see nominated are here: Clooney, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jean Dujardin, Michael Fassbender, Glenn Close, Viola Davis, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton.

On the other side of the ledger, it sure looks like Fincher's "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is out of the running for major Oscars, even before regular people get to see it. Rooney Mara got an acting nomination (and she deserves one), but the film was otherwise ignored. This may be reading tea leaves too closely, but I get the feeling that neither Spielberg's "War Horse" nor Scorsese's "Hugo," the two biggest old-time Oscar-bait movies of the year, exactly wowed the Globes voters. Neither got any acting nominations (I'm startled to see Ben Kingsley overlooked for "Hugo") and Spielberg was left off the directors' list. Overall, it remains a mixed-up and unsettled year in the awards race; I think "The Descendants" remains the front-runner, with "The Artist" and "Midnight in Paris" just behind.

Matt Zoller Seitz:

The Golden Globe ceremony itself tends to be a half-jokey, half-mortifying spectacle, but I've got to hand it to the Hollywood Foreign Press: with a few bizarre exceptions, they tend to put out a list of worthy nominees. This year's crop of TV nods is no exception. Looking over the list I see omissions that I personally don't approve of, but it's hard to argue with most of the shows and individuals they did select.

The best drama nominees are solid: HBO's "Game of Thrones" and "Boardwalk Empire," Starz's "Boss," Showtime's "Homeland" and FX's ascendant frightfest "American Horror Story." I would have liked to have seen the epic modern western saga "Justified" or even "Sons of Anarchy," which had a consistently strong fourth season, in the place of "Boardwalk Empire," and "Treme" taking the urban malaise slot over "Boss." It's stylish, compelling and superbly acted (especially by star Kelsey Grammer, who got a best dramatic actor nod) but rather silly in places. But I'm not hugely surprised that my proposed alternates were snubbed, as they're specifically, even defiantly American in their textures. ("Sons of Anarchy" has gotten some Globes love in the past, but maybe the organization is over it now?)

The comedy or musical nominees are three-for-five in my book: ABC's "Modern Family," Showtime's "Episodes" and yes, yes, yes to HBO's "Enlightened." But the "Glee" nomination is baffling to me -- it's the only major scripted musical series right now, and it has its brilliant moments, but there are severe quality control problems on that series. And the fifth nominee, Fox's "New Girl," just gives me a headache (maybe this is the international cult of Zooey Deschanel -- a nominee as best actress in a comedy or musical -- asserting its clout?) Those last two slots should have gone to "Louie," "Community," "Parks and Recreation," "Bored to Death" or any number of more deserving half-hour shows.

Best made-for-TV miniseries or movie is a mixed bag: Look for "Downton Abbey" to square off against "Mildred Pierce" in this category and related ones, and probably take the top prize. BBC's "The Hour" was terrific but doesn't stand a chance against "Abbey" and "Pierce," and the nod for HBO's "Cinema Verite" feels like a reflex; it was pretty good, but didn't say anything about its subject, documentary filmmaking and the myth of objective detachment, that countless other films hadn't already said as well or better. And HBO's "Too Big to Fail," about a behind-the-scenes conference of CEOs trying to halt the economic collapse of 2008, was a rich guy masturbation fantasy in which the guys who caused the problems were turned into heroic problem solvers; that this movie got nominated at all, in this year of all years, is pretty shameful.

I can't say much against the acting nominations in any major category. I'd like to see Claire Danes and Damian Lewis of "Homeland" take the top prizes in the drama categories. But they might face tough competition from, respectively, Mireille Enos in "The Killing" (awful show, superb lead female performance) and Grammer in "Boss" (critics groups love to reward an actor who obliterates typecasting, which is one of the reasons why Michael Chiklis of "The Shield" and Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad" (who's up again this year) won in the past. Laura Dern should win as best actress in a comedy or musical for "Enlightened" -- case closed -- but the eerie, mesmerizing power of eternal It Girl Zooey Deschanel should not be underestimated. I'd like Matt LeBlanc to win best comedy or musical actor for "Episodes," on which he played a sexually voracious, dumb-brilliant-manipulative version of himself, but the character might be too slippery for this group. Besides, three-time Globe winner Alec Baldwin is up yet again, and these days he tends to accumulate awards the way magnets pick up iron filings.

In my dreams, Kate Winslet and Evan Rachel Wood win best actress and supporting actress in a miniseries or movie for their mother-daughter teamwork in "Mildred Pierce." Jessica Lange deserves to win best supporting actress for "American Horror Story," in which she seems to be channeling Bette Davis in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" by way of Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire." If Peter Dinklage doesn't pick up yet another award as best supporting actor for "Game of Thrones," I'll be most surprised -- but I wouldn't object if Guy Pearce snuck in to win as Monty in "Mildred Pierce," the kind of sneakily deep performance that tends to be undervalued.

The complete list is here. What do you think?

By Andrew O'Hehir

Andrew O'Hehir is executive editor of Salon.

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By Matt Zoller Seitz

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