- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 18, 2003

This is a 60th-anniversary year for the Golden Globes, the annual awards gala of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, whose ceremony will be telecast tomorrow at 8 p.m. on Channel 4 and other NBC affiliates. To the surprise of many, the once-mocked Globes were upgraded decisively in glamour and prestige in the late 1980s when a wily television producer, Dick Clark, transformed the affair into a television special cleverly timed to anticipate the Oscar nominations.

Now it's almost taken for granted that the Globes will do that in certain major categories. In fact, numerous acceptance speeches first heard at the Globes have been echoed in somewhat hand-me-down form at the Academy Awards rite two months later.

Witness Ron Howard, Akiva Goldsman and Brian Grazer, the Globe-winning director-screenwriter-producer team of "A Beautiful Mind" a year ago. Destined to repeat as Oscar winners, they didn't have much in the way of fresh or conclusive gratitude to articulate.

Moreover, the Globes' format encourages an informality (and occasional naughtiness) that is trickier to bring off in the spacious theater auditoriums that host the Oscars. The Globes are staged in a dinner-table setting, in a banquet room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where the tables seem to be wedged awfully close together. There's also something inherently amusing about the ensuing congestion spectacle, which finds recipients snaking around the tables to reach their reward on the podium.

Now that the far-flung critical organizations have tallied their results, the way is clear for the Globes to commence the Oscar season in earnest. In all likelihood, the members of the HFPA will clarify it as a two-way race between Rob Marshall's scintillating movie version of the Bob Fosse musical "Chicago," nominated as best comedy or musical, and Stephen Daldry's adroit and faithful movie version of the Michael Cunningham novel "The Hours," nominated as best dramatic feature.

"Chicago" led the Globes preliminaries with eight total nominations; "The Hours" collected seven. There are just 13 movie categories in the Globes showcase, which also devotes half of the evening to television prizes, so it's difficult to top the number of nominations collected by "Chicago" and "The Hours." They will compete head-to-head only for the directing and screenwriting awards. Don't be surprised if it's a split, which would enhance Oscar suspense.

Offhand, I'd guess that as a first-time film director, Rob Marshall of "Chicago" might be at a slight disadvantage compared to Stephen Daldry, who had "Billy Elliot" in play two years ago. Both have accomplished movies to their credit on this occasion, and it would be a scandal if either missed a date with the Oscars.

Bill Condon of "Chicago" may have an edge over David Hare in the screenwriting category, because he's more of a Hollywood fixture. They, too, are likely to be rematched when Oscar nominations are announced for best adapted screenplay.

If "Chicago" and "The Hours" are the Globe winners in the best movie categories, they could take the steam out of other Oscar campaigns, particularly for the sleeper "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which finds itself in a runoff with "Chicago," and the arguably misfiled "About Schmidt," lumped against "The Hours" in the drama division although it would seem to fit more plausibly in the musical or comedy slot. Moreover, the foreign press membership might consider it a commendable gesture to prefer Roman Polanski's Holocaust chronicle "The Pianist" to "The Hours."

By separating the finalists into dramatic and musical/comedic divisions in three categories best picture, actor and actress the organization doubles up on certain contenders while permitting suspense to linger about the eventual Oscar finalists.

Sometimes the ruse also allows the Globes to take advantage of an attractive neck-and-neck year: for example, 1998, in which "Shakespeare in Love" and "Saving Private Ryan" went down to the wire at the Oscars, with "Shakespeare" taking the final prize. Having given its awards to both movies, the Globes was kind of sitting pretty. It even got the first installment of Gwyneth Paltrow's heartfelt acceptance speech.

It has been a banner year for actresses, which is reflected in the fact that "Chicago" and "The Hours" will be competing with themselves in the best-actress categories. The co-stars of "Chicago," Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones, are nominees for best musical or comedy actress, along with a set of you-have-to-be-kidding alternatives: Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Secretary," Nia Vardalos in "Greek Wedding" and Goldie Hawn, a frequent Globe favorite, in "The Banger Sisters."

Two of the co-stars of "The Hours," Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep, are finalists for dramatic actress. Their missing co-star, Julianne Moore, is likely to win the category for her performance as the deceived housewife of "Far From Heaven." So in a manner of speaking, "The Hours" can't lose in this category. The other nominees are Salma Hayek in "Frida" and Diane Lane in "Unfaithful." It should be sufficient if they turn up looking their best. Strictly on merit, the most deserving performances are Miss Zellweger's as Roxie Hart and Miss Kidman's as Virginia Woolf.

Golden Globes voters can do their Oscar betters a considerable favor by creating a bit of momentum for "Chicago," which also does Hollywood a favor by restoring the musical genre to a dynamism and esteem it hasn't enjoyed since the 1970s. Moreover, because most of the critical groups were lining up behind "The Hours" or "About Schmidt," there's even an element of novelty and independence involved in going for "Chicago" just in time to encourage the Oscars.

What other performers are likely to enjoy a competitive advantage after the Globes? Daniel Day-Lewis probably deserves best dramatic actor for his bravura performance in "The Gangs of New York," but Jack Nicholson in "About Schmidt" and Michael Caine in "The Quiet American," may have a built-in advantage both tomorrow and on Oscar night. Both actors are old favorites at Globe ceremonies.

Adrien Brody in "The Pianist" and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Catch Me if You Can" ought to be the self-evident also-rans. Globe voters failed to include Eminem in the finals for best musical or comedy actor, although he is nominated for best song, "Lose Yourself." I wouldn't be surprised if the Oscar membership takes a more welcoming view and nominates him as both actor and songwriter.

Nicolas Cage in "Adaptation" and Hugh Grant in "About a Boy" probably are better positioned to win the second Globe for best actor than Richard Gere in "Chicago," Adam Sandler in "Punch-Drunk Love" or Kieran Culkin in "Igby Goes Down." Although, come to think of it, Mr. Gere does have excellent press relations, and he took a risk as a song-and-dance man.

The actual supporting players in contention are led by the consensus favorites from the critical juries: Kathy Bates in "About Schmidt" and Chris Cooper in "Adaptation." The former could be upset by "Chicago's" marvelous Queen Latifah, which begs the question: Could she and Catherine Zeta-Jones end up competing against each other at the Oscars? Maybe, but it would be preferable to have the Queen representing "Chicago" in this category.

It would surprise me to see the Globe for supporting actress presented to Susan Sarandon in "Igby Goes Down," Meryl Streep in "Adaptation" or Cameron Diaz in "Gangs of New York," a real booby-prize performance. Did foreign press folks suffer memory lapses about Rachel Griffiths in "The Rookie" or Toni Collette in "About a Boy?" I gather their voting blocs leave something to be desired when compared to the Diaz faction.

To be fair, meritorious supporting performances can pile up in the course of a year and be forgotten by absent-minded voters. I had intended to vote for Viola Davis, a striking presence in "Far From Heaven," "Solaris" and "Antwone Fisher," while compiling a couple of critics' ballots. Then I clean forgot about her while juggling possibilities.

Chris Cooper will need to fend off Ed Harris in "The Hours," Paul Newman in "Road to Perdition," Dennis Quaid in "Far From Heaven" and John C. Reilly in "Chicago," one of three movies in which he played cuckolded spouses.

Rumor has it that an irresistible wave of sentiment could make Paul Newman a Globe and Oscar winner for at least one more time. I'm inclined to think that playing a terminal AIDS sufferer might be enough of a shock and a switch to do it for Mr. Harris, arguably overdue for Oscar recognition. However, if a Newman fix is in, the other finalists can relax and just enjoy the show. Feeling competitive or aggrieved would be a waste of time.

Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep are on the verge of securing their 12th and 13th Academy Award nominations, respectively. Miss Streep shares the record for performers, 12, with Katharine Hepburn. This numerology could influence the results at the Globes, the Screen Actors Guild awards and, finally, the Oscars. Mr. Nicholson is poised to become a four-time Oscar winner, and everyone who overlooked how impressive he was last year in "The Pledge" may find it very convenient to overrate his "comeback" in "About Schmidt."

These milestones may start to fall into place tomorrow night at the Globes. It would please me to discover that Oscar voters remembered certain titles that slipped down memory holes with the Globe bunch: "Monsoon Wedding," "The Rookie," "Possession" and "Roger Dodger," but it is heartening to observe that not a single Golden Globe nomination went to "Signs."

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