Making Sense of This Morning's Golden Globe Nominations (Analysis)

Scott Feinberg
The Hollywood ReporterDecember 12, 2013

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association on Thursday announced its nominations for the 71st annual Golden Globe Awards, which will take place Jan. 12 in Hollywood. As was widely anticipated, the films 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle, with their large ensembles, led the nominees -- each nabbed seven noms. But the rest of the field shook out in interesting and, in several cases, unexpected ways.

In the best picture (drama) race, 12 Years, plus fellow top contenders Captain Phillips and Gravity, were joined by two films, Philomena and Rush, that the HFPA seems to like more than other awards groups (they did well across the board), perhaps because the films, like a majority of the HFPA's members, are European. Their noms kept out of the top race the likes of August: Osage County (whose lead actress Meryl Streep and supporting actress Julia Roberts were nominated) and Lee Daniels' The Butler (which was completely shut out, with not even supporting actress Oprah Winfrey receiving an invitation).

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Over on the best picture (musical or comedy) side of things, Hustle was, as expected, joined by Inside Llewyn Davis (which, if not a musical, features a lot of music) and Nebraska (which, if not laugh-out-loud funny, offers a few laughs). Also making the cut in the category: The Wolf of Wall Street, which some thought might be left out in the cold because it screened so late in the year for the HFPA, and Her, the futuristic love story that also showed up in the musical or comedy categories of best actor (Joaquin Phoenix) and best screenplay (Spike Jonze). The HFPA apparently did not respond well to Saving Mr. Banks, which scored only one nom, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which was shut out entirely.

In the best director race, several people were always regarded as pretty safe bets: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Steve McQueen (12 Years) and David O. Russell (Hustle). Ethan Coen and Joel Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis), Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) duked it out for the final two slots, and Greengrass and Payne walked away with noms -- all of which might offer some hint of which best picture nominees have stronger shots of winning than others.

The best actor (drama) race pits frontrunners Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and Robert Redford (All Is Lost, rebounding from a SAG snub Wednesday) against each other, with Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom's Idris Elba boxing out Whitaker, Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) and Hugh Jackman (Prisoners) for the category's final slot. It was an unexpectedly strong day all-around for Mandela, which also wound up with noms for best song and best score.

Over in best actor (musical or comedy), the lineup was pretty much what everyone expected: Christian Bale (Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street), Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davis) and Phoenix (Her). The only real alternative to any of these guys was Stiller for his performance in Mitty.

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The best actress (drama) field is another that everyone saw coming. It is entirely composed of past best actress Oscar winners, four of whom have a realistic shot at repeating again at this year's Oscars -- Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena) and Emma Thompson (Mr. Banks) -- plus Kate Winslet (Labor Day).

Best actress (musical or comedy) was a little more interesting. Amy Adams (Hustle), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said) and Streep (August) were always slam-dunks. Some thought that the HFPA might fill out the category with comedic performances from real blockbusters -- i.e. Bullock's and/or Melissa McCarthy's in The Heat. But instead the favorites were joined by indie queens Julie Delpy (Before Midnight) and Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), who represent the sole nominations from their films.

It was tough to predict the best supporting actor race, which pitted big names and relative unknowns from dramas and comedies in a race for just five slots. The two who seemed the safest bets, Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) and Michael Fassbender (12 Years), did make cut -- as did Daniel Bruhl and Bradley Cooper, riding the strong coattails of Rush and Hustle, respectively. And, remarkably, Barkhad Abdi, the Somali scene-stealer from Captain Phillips whom not a single voter had heard of a year ago, but who scored a SAG nom Wednesday, claimed the final Globe slot on Thursday, beating out the likes of 42's Harrison Ford (even though he was better than he's been in years -- and he's Harrison Ford!), Enough Said's James Gandolfini (who scored a SAG nom but may have been hurt at the HFPA by confusion over whether he was a lead or supporting contender), Philomena's Steve Coogan (even though he's European and the HFPA clearly loved his film), Prisoners' Jake Gyllenhaal and Saving Mr. Banks' Hanks.

The only interesting thing about the best supporting actor category was the snub of Winfrey -- at the expense, apparently, of Blue Jasmine's Sally Hawkins. Breakout star Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years) and A-listers Jennifer Lawrence (Hustle) and Roberts (August) were on everyone's predictions list, and most people also had June Squibb (Nebraska). But nobody in their wildest dreams thought that the HFPA, which has a rich history of kowtowing to celebrities, could take a pass on the biggest one of all.

The best screenplay category at the Globes is interesting because, like the best director category, it contains only five slots and can therefore provide clues about which of the 10 best picture nominees stand the strongest shot. This year's confirms that 12 Years and Hustle are probably the films to beat on the drama and musical or comedy sides, respectively -- but that we should also watch out for Philomena on the former and Her and Nebraska on the latter. Those three slots could have just as easily gone to Blue Jasmine (although Woody Allen never shows up and is already being feted with a lifetime achievement award in-absentia), Enough Said and/or Inside Llewyn Davis (which was written by the Coen brothers, after all).

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In the best animated film race, Disney's Frozen and DreamWorks Animation's The Croods, which are waging a hard-fought battle with one another for the Oscar, will buck heads here, as well, joined not by Monsters University (which many expected because it's a Pixar production) or The Wind Rises (the Japanese film which the HFPA liked enough to nominate it for best foreign language film), but by Despicable Me 2.

The best foreign language film category pits three films that are their country's official Oscar entries -- Denmark's The Hunt, Italy's The Great Beauty and Iran's The Past -- against two that are not, France's Blue Is the Warmest Color and the aforementioned The Wind Rises.

Best original score will pit the high-profile tracks of 12 Years (by Hans Zimmer), The Book Thief (John Williams' first non-Star Wars/Indiana Jones/Spielberg score in years) and Gravity (Steven Price) against the lower-profile but no less impressive All Is Lost (Alex Ebert's music is Redford's only co-star) and Mandela (Alex Heffes).

And the best original song category was, as always, filled out with a bunch of music superstars (you'd want to rub shoulders with them too!) -- Bono ("Ordinary Love" from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), Coldplay ("Atlas" from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Idina Menzel ("Let It Go" from Frozen) and Taylor Swift ("Sweeter Fiction" from One Chance) -- plus Inside Llewyn Davis' "Please, Mr. Kennedy," which, regrettably, isn't even an original song. I'm sure that irks Lana Del Ray, whom many had projected for a nom for her catchy number "Young and Beautiful" from The Great Gatsby. C'est la vie.

To its credit, the HFPA did not shamelessly nominate any film or person who completely lacked legitimate merits, as it has in recent years with noms for The Tourist and its stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, etc. In fact, by snubbing the likes of Oprah, Ford and Scorsese, it did quite the opposite. Perhaps the HFPA's new president Theo Kingma really has ushered in a new day for the Golden Globes.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg