The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. hopes its Golden Globes are important in their own right. But to many, the awards are chiefly of interest as Oscar barometers – and the Globes have had mixed results on that front.

In years when there is a clear frontrunner for film awards, such as “Schindler’s List” in 1993 and “Forrest Gump” in 1994, the Globes are right in synch. However, when there are no favorites, such as last year, the Globes’ batting average is much spottier. And most would agree that this is a wide-open year.

Batting .500

Last year, in the six money categories – picture, director, lead and supporting actor and actress – the Globes predicted only three winners: actor Nicolas Cage (“Leaving Las Vegas”), supporting actress Mira Sorvino (“Mighty Aphrodite”) and director Mel Gibson (“Braveheart”).

In 1993 (“Schindler’s List”), the Globes foreshadowed Oscar wins in five of six categories, and in 1994 (“Forrest Gump”), it was six out of six. Those years, the winners were less of a question mark, including such office-pool favorites as Tom Hanks (both years), Jessica Lange, Holly Hunter, Tommy Lee Jones, Martin Landau and Steven Spielberg.

Globes have another advantage: They give comedy and drama awards in the actor, actress and picture categories, thus doubling their chances for Oscar accuracy.

Oscar campaign trail

Since most industryites consider this a free-ranging year, it’s debatable how much Oscar accuracy to expect from the Globe nominations and wins. But clearly, the HFPA honors are a key step in Oscar campaigning, at keeping certain contenders in the voter’s eye.

Bingham Ray, co-managing exec of October Films (“Secrets & Lies,” “Breaking the Waves”), said the nominations will “impact box office, no question. So many people pay attention to the Golden Globes as a bellwether or precursor to the Oscars, audiences tune into it. This is the first step in the process to the Academy Awards nominations.

“The Oscars clearly have an effect on box office; even critics awards have impact; we’ve seen that (box office boost for the pics) in the last few days after the Los Angeles and New York film critics’ awards. It’s really gratifying.”

However, the annual critics lists are rarely good Oscar indicators: Reviewers don’t want to echo other critics groups and so tend to vote for disparate winners, sometimes at the expense of “obvious” choices. However, critics associations are helpful in reminding Acad voters of little films, either from indies or foreign distribs.

A key element in the attention to the Golden Globes is timing. Nominations were announced Thursday, nearly three weeks before Oscar ballots are mailed (Jan. 8). Golden Globe winners will be announced Jan. 19, two weeks before Oscar polls close (Jan. 31, with Oscar noms announced Feb. 11). The Globes are the New Hampshire primaries of the Oscar season.

“Shine” actor Geoffrey Rush on Thursday told Daily Variety, “Awards are basically a celebration where all participants get to party and throw a few bouquets around. Archivally, it’s a way of looking back, to see the winners and say, ‘This is the way people were thinking at that time.’ ”

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