Pete Hammond

Here’s news: awards consultants tell me that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is relaxing its rules slightly this year in order to  encourage distributors to choose the category they feel their movies belong in. But, of course, the HFPA still reserves the ultimate right to make the final decision as they always have. (In other words, don’t inappropriately enter the comedy/musical race just because you might have a better shot there.) Although most movie jockeying now is for Oscar contention, there’s an intense race forming already in the Golden Globe’s Comedy or Musical categories for Best Picture and Best Actor/Actress.

More than ever, studio awards consultants I talk to seem to be specifically targeting these categories once considered also-rans. But now they’re stepping stones toward gaining Oscar traction. Say what you will about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (and many do), it is still one of the few awards-giving organizations to make a distinct split between Drama and Comedy. And Hollywood loves that. Because the Globe pickers have opened up opportunities for campaigns to make a dent in the season and draw significant notice to movies that might not necessarily be on the top of the Best Picture Academy list.

Last year, the ultimate winners in these categories — The Hangover for Best Picture Comedy or Musical, Robert Downey Jr  in Sherlock Holmes for Best Actor Comedy/Musical, and Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia for Best Actress — did not repeat their feats at the Academy Award. That hasn’t stopped well-oiled awards campaign machines from going all-out for the Globe this year. In fact, it’s probably encouraged them.

One major candidate is the early summer release The Kids Are All Right which has Focus Features intent on not only landing a nomination, but the Globe itself in the lighter category. This is partially to boost its Oscar chances for Best Picture and make it fresh again in the minds of voters. To that end, the movie though played out in theatres will be very visible just as the Globe race heats up when Universal Home Entertainment releases the DVD  on November 16th accompanied by the inevitable TV advertising campaign and an aggressive program to get the disc in every possible awards-voter’s hands.

It won’t be alone in that quest as several other high profile movies will be trying to grab HFPA attention in the comedy/musical category including such still to be released entries as the Warner Bros dramedy Life As We Know It, James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know for Sony, Jim Carrey’s long-delayed I Love You, Phillip Morris for Roadside Attractions; Stephen Frears’ Cannes entry Tamara Drewe for Sony Pictures Classics; the dramatic country musical Country Strong, that aims to be this year’s Crazy Heart with a female lead (Gwyneth Paltrow) from Sony’s Screen gems, Casino Jack featuring Kevin Spacey’s lively turn as disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff for ATO Pictures, and, if it’s any good,  perhaps even Warner Bros’ Due Date which comes from last year’s Hangover winner Todd Phillips and stars Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis.

Fox’s  new dramedy Love And Other Drugs from director Ed Zwick (in a winning change of form) definitely has the goods for a run at this category — that is, if Fox chooses to enter it in comedy/musical and not drama. Woody Allen’s Vicki Christina Barcelona won two years ago so don’t count out his new You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger to be released by Sony Pictures Classics. A longer shot is Sony/Screen Gems’ Cher/Christina Aguilera musical vehicle, Burlesque, based on the campy trailer.

Then there will be movies that blur the line between the comedy/musical and drama categories including The Weinstein Company’s Nowhere Boy about the young John Lennon backed by a familiar soundtrack of Lennon golden oldies which also could land star Aaron Johnson a Best Actor Comedy/Musical nod. Weinstein sources say they have been getting good feedback from some HFPA members and thus are quite enthused about the possibilities. The little-buzzed movie, which is already on airplanes and DVD in England, doesn’t get a U.S. release until October 8th, the day before what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday. Similarly Sony Pictures Classics is taking its own British entry, Made In Dagenham, a dramedy about a female equal pay rights movement, and sticking it in the Comedy/Musical category.

One blockbuster  from early in 2010 that shouldn’t be counted out in the category is Tim Burton’s  billion dollar global grosser, Alice In Wonderland 3D which Disney plans to aggressively promote. Its star Johnny Depp, an 8-time Globe nominee and winner for Sweeney Todd, could figure in the Best Actor Comedy/Musical race. Others likely to compete there include Globe favorite Jim Carrey, Kevin Spacey, and Nowhere Boy’s Johnson along with Paul Rudd of How Do You Know, Russell Brand from Get Him To The Greek, Josh Duhamel  in Life As We Know It, and Jake Gyllenhaal who has an easy nod for Love And Other Drugs and could be the one to beat. Globe voters could also fondly remember Andy Garcia’s well-received work in City Island even though the film came out last spring.

In the tightening race for Best Actress Comedy/Musical, leading the pack are Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right, Gemma Arterton in Tamara Drewe, Sally Hawkins in Made In Dagenham, Gwyneth Paltrow for Country Strong, Katharine Heigl in Life As We Know It, Reese Witherspoon in the still-unseen Christmas release How Do You Know, and a very strong Anne Hathaway for Love And Other Drugs.

Entry forms are due by November 5th.

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