LOS ANGELES, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Nominations are in the books for the 61st Golden Globe Awards, and it's time to examine the results for Oscar clues.
Realistically, however, don't expect much.
The Golden Globes have become a reasonably reliable predictor of the eventual winner for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. With few exceptions over the past 20 years, a Golden Globe winner has gone on to win the top Oscar. You have to go back to 1995 to find an Oscar winner ("Braveheart") that did not first pick up a Golden Globe.
But there is a catch -- the Hollywood Foreign Press Association actually hands out two best picture awards each year, one for drama and one for musical or comedy. That gives the HPFA two chances to be in synch with Academy voters for the top Oscar.
Normally, it's the winner of the Golden Globe for best drama that goes on to win the Oscar. Two recent exceptions were "Chicago" and "Shakespeare in Love," but academy voters have demonstrated a strong preference over the years for serious movies over comedies.
More reliable Oscar clues will arrive early next year when the Producers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild announce their nominees. And when those guilds announce their winners, the Oscar picture will really begin to clarify.
For now, the best picture race is shaping up as a fairly competitive stakes race -- with an uncommonly strong field of contenders.
"Cold Mountain" led all Golden Globe nominees with eight mentions. The other nominees for best drama movie were "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"; "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World"; "Mystic River"; and "Seabiscuit" -- leaving no room on the list for such arguably worthy entries as "The Last Samurai," "House of Sand and Fog" or "In America."
Among the nominees for best musical or comedy movie, only "Lost in Translation" is widely regarded as a serious contender -- if a long shot -- for a Best Picture Oscar nomination. "Finding Nemo" has a virtual lock on a Best Animated Film Oscar nomination. The other Golden Globe nominees are "Bend It Like Beckham," "Big Fish" and "Love Actually."
As usual, the list of Golden Globe nominees provides some curious choices.
The 10 best picture nominees came up with just 10 acting nominations among them -- almost a meager number by historical standards.
The nominees for best actor in a drama -- Russell Crowe ("Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World"), Tom Cruise ("The Last Samurai"), Ben Kingsley ("House of Sand and Fog"), Jude Law ("Cold Mountain") and Sean Penn ("Mystic River") -- offer a particularly competitive race, featuring strong performances by a mix of box-office titans and critically acclaimed actors.
The race for best actress in a drama features two newcomers to the awards season merry-go-round, Charlize Theron ("Monster") and Evan Rachel Wood ("Thirteen"), along with three veterans of the season -- Cate Blanchett ("Veronica Guerin"), Nicole Kidman ("Cold Mountain") and Uma Thurman ("Kill Bill -- Vol. 1").
Not unexpectedly, the race for best director is fiercely competitive.
Sofia Coppola is nominated for her critically acclaimed comedy, "Lost in Translation." Clint Eastwood earned a nomination for his dark drama "Mystic River." Peter Jackson will go for his first Golden Globe win for "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" -- after watching Martin Scorsese ("Gangs of New York") accept the award last year, and Robert Altman ("Gosford Park") take it the year before.
The other two directing nominees are up for 19th century war epics. Anthony Minghella's Civil War epic, "Cold Mountain," and Peter Weir's Napoleonic War epic "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" may split the historical costume drama vote.
Whatever the Hollywood Foreign Press Association decides when it hands out the Golden Globes on Jan. 25, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" has something going for it that the other nominees do not. Academy voters have demonstrated a tendency to issue "make-up" calls -- similar to those that occur in sports, when an official who hurts one team with a blown call makes up for it on a subsequent play.
"Chicago" may have benefited from such a call last year, one year after another highly regarded movie musical -- "Moulin Rouge!" -- failed to win for Best Picture, even though it had won the Golden Globe and the Producers Guild of America's top prize.
By applying the same theory, the Academy could just as easily have gone with "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" last year, and given it the Oscar that many thought should have gone to "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" two years ago.
If there is a "make-up call" this year, it may well belong to "The Return of the King."