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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The Golden Globes: Hollywood's ultimate guilty pleasure

December 15, 2009 |  1:42 pm

No one can lay a glove on the Golden Globes. It's the award show that has survived so many crazy incidents and outrageous behavior over the years -- remember the time a Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. member was suspended for selling a photo of Tom Selleck to a tabloid? -- that it has developed an an almost absolute immunity to criticism.

Showbiz journalists have penned detailed exposes, columnists (me included) have mocked the HFPA's picks, TV critics have panned the show, but nothing, not even the infamous choice of Pia Zadora as new female star of the year, has been able to stop the Globes from motoring along as one of Hollywood's most unlikely institutions.

I suspect the Globes owe their robust health less to their value as an award season barometer than to the fact that everyone in Hollywood, even the eye-rolling studio executives who privately ridicule the group's tiny cadre of obscure international journalists, enjoys the idea of having an award show that is as raucous and silly as the Academy Awards is stuffy and tame. The Globes are Hollywood's ultimate guilty pleasure. If the Oscars are as earnest as an Ed Zwick movie, the Globes are as daffy and unpredictable as a Sacha Baron Cohen comedy. 

They are also refreshingly populist, which surely has earned the Globes a big dose of goodwill from the studios, which have been complaining for years about the Oscars' fondness for dark, dreary dramas that barely make a dent at the box office. No one will accuse the Globes of dreariness. In fact, the Globes' nominations are clearly weighted toward pop appeal, with a separate (but equal) category for best musical or comedy, for its best picture and best actor and actress awards.


That's why this year's nominations have far more in common with the Joe Beer Can tastes of the multiplexes than what we'll see on Feb. 2nd, when the Oscar nominations arrive. While "Up in the Air" and "The Hurt Locker" continued to roll up nominations, the Globes made room for far more populist films. Its best musical or comedy film category was dominated by nominations for such broad comedies as "The Hangover," "Julie & Julia" and "It's Complicated," which, with the possible exception of "The Hangover," are long-shots for Oscar best picturedom. In fact, if we were giving out odds, "It's Complicated," a frothy comedy from Nancy Meyers, would be a 900-1 shot for an Oscar best picture nod.

The Globes best actor in a musical or comedy category is also weighted toward mainstream entertainment, with Robert Downey Jr. (from "Sherlock Holmes") and Matt Damon (from "The Informant!") getting nominations, while Sandra Bullock, the kind of actress who rarely gets any love from the academy, earned a Globes nomination for both of her 2009 hits, a best musical or comedy actress nod for "The Proposal" and a best dramatic actress nod for "The Blind Side." (The odds of Bullock getting an Oscar nomination for "The Proposal": 9,000-1.)

Of course, big movie stars -- especially big movie stars who are willing to show up for the Globes TV broadcast -- seem to cast a potent hypnotic spell over the 83 international journalists who make up the HFPA. The bigger the star, the bigger the whopper when it comes to unlikely nominations. In 2005, Nicole Kidman earned a best dramatic actress nod for "Birth," a little-seen drama that ended up making a grand total of $5 million. In 2006, Leonardo Di Caprio landed two best dramatic actor nominations, one for "The Departed," one for "Blood Diamond." In 2007, Angelina Jolie -- who seems to have a Globes nomination wrapped up from the minute the cameras start rolling on one of her movies -- scored a nomination for "A Mighty Heart," a forgettable political drama that was a mighty flop.

This year the stars are equally dominant. As you scan the nominations, some of the choices, notably Damon for "The Informant!," Julia Roberts for best musical or comedy actress in the blink-and-you-missed-it "Duplicity" and Tobey Maguire for best dramatic actor in "Brothers," seem geared far more for the value of their appearance on the Globes broadcast than any appreciation for their bravura acting. (The odds of Maguire earning a best actor Oscar this year: 90,000-1.)  

Speaking of odds, the easiest odds to lay are that the Globes will lavish attention on a film bankrolled by Harvey Weinstein, who over the years has earned the reputation of being a beneficent Medici-style patron to the HFPA. Every year, some Weinstein Co. production scores with the Globes, even though it is largely ignored by most critics groups and Oscar voters. In 2006, the Globes gave a best drama nomination to "Bobby," a wooden, now-forgotten drama that was released by Weinstein. In 2007, the Globes mysteriously expanded the best drama category to seven pictures, perhaps to make room for "The Great Debaters," another Weinstein production.

This year the Globes is giving the love to "Nine." Even though the Weinstein-produced film has been getting a woefully lukewarm reception at early screenings, it managed to earn five nominations, including a host of acting nods (just as the Weinstein's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" did last year). Unfortunately, according to early screening-goers, the film is too distant and chilly to be populist entertainment. 

That goes against the grain, since the Globes have little interest in dark or depressing navel-gazing, which is probably why the gloomiest of this year's awards contenders -- "The Road," "The Lovely Bones" and "Bright Star" -- were films that came away empty-handed, at least in terms of major nominations. Give the Globes credit for consistency. Despite all of their members' oddball behavior, from the cat fights at cocktail parties to an incident in which an HFPA member grabbed Brendan Fraser's bottom, the Golden Globes know how to put on a star-friendly show. Call it lightweight or call it giddy fun, but in Hollywood, that's what they call entertainment. 

Photo: Julia Roberts in "Duplicity."