Brad Pitt or George Clooney? Meryl Streep or Viola Davis? "The Artist" versus "The Descendants"? Predicting the Golden Globes can be like herding cats. The notoriously mercurial Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), a group of 90-odd foreign journalists and hangers-on hailing from Malaysia to Latvia, wavers between being starstruck (ratings!) and making the unpredictable serious statement (integrity?).
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Still, I can't help myself. I'm going to take a stab with a butter knife at who will win -- and who really deserves the honors. Check out my predictions. Make your own lists. And then tune in along with me for the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards, airing live, with inevitable gaffes, on Sunday, January 15, 2012, on NBC.
Best Motion Picture -- Drama
Nominees: "The Descendants," "The Help," "Hugo," "The Ides of March," "Moneyball," "War Horse"
Who Will Win: "The Descendants"
Who Should Win: "The Descendants"
Why: "The Descendants" is currently the front-runner -- and it has George Clooney as its star and Alexander Payne behind the camera. The HFPA likes Payne. It's also a terrific movie -- adult, smart, literary, and with tremendous heart. It could almost be a French movie. That said, I wouldn't be completely surprised if "Moneyball" won. "The Help" even stands an outside chance.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture -- Drama
Nominees: Glenn Close ("Albert Nobbs"), Viola Davis ("The Help"), Rooney Mara ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), Meryl Streep ("The Iron Lady"), Tilda Swinton ("We Need to Talk About Kevin")
Who Will Win: Meryl Streep
Who Should Win: Meryl Streep
Why: The HFPA loves Streep -- and she is brilliant as Margaret Thatcher. The movie is doing better in Europe than it is in America, so there should be very little resistance. They won't go for Mara -- she's no Nooni Rapace -- although she is the ingénue of the pack. Close's performance is medicinal. If there's an upset, it will come from Davis or Swinton.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture -- Drama
Nominees: George Clooney ("The Descendants"), Leonardo DiCaprio ("J. Edgar"), Michael Fassbender ("Shame"), Ryan Gosling ("The Ides of March"), Brad Pitt ("Moneyball")
Who Will Win: Brad Pitt
Who Should Win: Michael Fassbender
Why: This is where the HFPA shares the wealth -- if they give best pic to "The Descendants," then Brad takes best actor here. If not, it goes to Clooney. He's certainly fantastic in "The Descendants," but Fassbender really broke out this year with so many great roles beyond the one for which he's nominated, including "A Dangerous Method" and "Jane Eyre," not to mention the blockbuster "X-Men: First Class." The HFPA could demonstrate that they know how to be as brave as that actor was in "Shame."
Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Nominees: "50/50," "The Artist," "Bridesmaids," "Midnight in Paris, "My Week With Marilyn"
Who Will Win: "The Artist"
Who Should Win: "The Artist"
Why: It was a very slow year for musicals, and we'd be happy if "Bridesmaids" proved us wrong as the genuinely laugh-out-loud comedy of the bunch. But it seems almost incomprehensible that "The Artist," the strongest Oscar contender of this category and a true joy to watch, won't win.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture -- Musical or Comedy
Nominees: Jodie Foster ("Carnage"), Charlize Theron ("Young Adult"), Kristen Wiig ("Bridesmaids"), Michelle Williams ("My Week With Marilyn"), Kate Winslet ("Carnage")
Who Will Win: Michelle Williams
Who Should Win: Michelle Williams
Why: It's a slam dunk for Williams. This is where "My Week With Marilyn" gets its prize. Still, we love Theron as a nasty piece of work, and Wiig as the irresistible girl next door. As for the "Carnage" duo: Their nominations landed them on the red carpet. Enough said.
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Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture -- Musical or Comedy
Nominees: Jean Dujardin ("The Artist"), Brendan Gleeson ("The Guard"), Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("50/50"), Ryan Gosling ("Crazy, Stupid, Love"), Owen Wilson ("Midnight in Paris")
Who Will Win: Ryan Gosling
Who Should Win: Jean Dujardin
Why: Gosling is nominated in both comedy and drama -- the HFPA loves him, and everybody overlooked his tremendous performance in "Blue Valentine" last year. Still, Dujardin has charisma to burn in a role that's all physical grace -- and only one line of dialog.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Nominees: Berenice Bejo ("The Artist"), Jessica Chastain ("The Help"), Janet McTeer ("Albert Nobbs"), Octavia Spencer ("The Help"), Shailene Woodsley ("The Descendants")
Who Will Win: Jessica Chastain
Who Should Win: Jessica Chastain
Why: There's no question that this is a competitive category of deserving actresses. I initially thought it would go to Spencer, but her co-star Chastain has one big leg up: She's been so good in so many movies this year. There's no denying her momentum.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Nominees: Kenneth Branagh ("My Week With Marilyn"), Albert Brooks ("Drive"), Jonah Hill ("Moneyball"), Viggo Mortensen ("A Dangerous Mind"), Christopher Plummer ("Beginners")
Who Will Win: Albert Brooks
Who Should Win: Viggo Mortensen
Why: Call me biased, but I can't get around Brooks playing against type as a raging killer; finally he gets to externalize his anger. Brooks' primary competition is Plummer, who not only was outstanding in "Beginners" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," but the octogenarian also has that lifetime achievement thing going. Meanwhile, my heart belongs to Viggo Mortensen for his sly, brilliant Sigmund Freud in the underappreciated "A Dangerous Method."
Best Foreign Language Film
Nominees: "The Flowers of War" (China), "In the Land of Blood and Honey" (USA), "The Kid with a Bike" (Belgium), "A Separation" (Iran), "The Skin I Live In" (Spain)
Who Will Win: "In the Land of Blood and Honey"
Who Should Win: "In the Land of Blood and Honey"
Why: Not only is the temptation to bring together a triumphant Brad and Angelina the night of the awards too great, but Jolie's movie is excellent. Here's a chance for the HFPA to demonstrate that they don't dismiss Jolie's brain just because they appreciate her beauty.
Best Director - Motion Picture
Nominees: Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris"), George Clooney ("The Ides of March"), Michael Hazanavicius ("The Artist"), Alexander Payne ("The Descendants"), Martin Scorsese ("Hugo")
Who Will Win: George Clooney
Who Should Win: Alexander Payne
Why: The HFPA loves Clooney, and showered nominations on "The Ides of March." Getting the best-director honor will make him happiest, and the Globes live to make Clooney happy. It won't happen at the Oscars, so he should enjoy it. Meanwhile, Payne is one of the sharpest, most creative American directors, and he delivered an emotionally satisfying portrait of modern American family life without ever getting sit-com soft. Cue the Oscar.
See the trailer for 'The Descendants':