Studios' decision can have repercussions in Oscar race

In a year where award handicappers agree that no one film is dominating the landscape, the upcoming Golden Globes is a studio’s godsend.

Since the mid-1950s, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has divvied up the picture nominees into two categories: drama and musical/comedy. So instead of five slots open for the top film, there are 10 that will generate headlines and Oscar buzz immediately after nominees are announced Dec. 21.

But do pics that land in the musical/comedy category carry as much weight as those that vie for best drama? Some films can qualify for either category and it’s up to the studio to determine where the movie will compete.

“I don’t see a downside,” says Tony Angelotti, a veteran Oscar consultant who has worked on the “Shakespeare in Love,” “Pulp Fiction” and “The Cider House Rules” campaigns for Miramax. “You can set up a film in the comedy category and, hopefully, give it a leg up to win. By doing so, you qualify it as a real contender.”

However, Angelotti adds, “if you put a film in comedy and it doesn’t get nominated, then that’s a bad sign. You’ve got a real perception problem.”

Over the past 10 years, of the 51 films that have been nominated in the comedy/musical category for the Globes, nine have gone on to be Oscar nominated, and few, if any, have been laugh out-loud comedies.

In 1998, “As Good as It Gets” was a comedy/musical winner that went on to take Oscar gold as best picture. A year earlier, “Jerry Maguire” found itself in the same Globes category, but it would be tough to find a reviewer who saw the film as a straight comedy.

A better example of a pic that audiences would be hard-pressed to describe as funny is the Demi Moore-Patrick Swayze film “Ghost,” which won the Golden Globes comedy category in 1991 and went on to take an Oscar for original screenplay.

“There are movies that fall in between and that’s a judgment call,” says Nadia Bronson, president of international marketing and distribution at Universal. She believes that comedies aren’t taken as seriously as dramas by Oscar voters but that it’s the publicity generated by a nom, no matter the category, that counts.

Bronson says she relies on the HFPA screenings to determine where U’s films will be slotted. This year, the studio has a bountiful slate of pics that could fall into either category. Although no official decisions have been made, Bronson says U is leaning toward putting “Billy Elliot” in drama — along with “Erin Brockovich” — and was unsure about the upcoming Nicolas Cage pic “Family Man.” In the comedy category, U is confident that “Meet the Parents” will land a nom.

Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark” will be receiving a major awards push from Fine Line and though the film has a few musical numbers as sung by singer-turned-actress Bjork, the film will be placed in the drama category.

“We feel and hope that ‘Dancer’ is a dramatic film and we shied away from the musical aspect of it,” says Fine Line executive VP of marketing, Marian Koltai-Levine. “I think the film and her performance lends itself into the dramatic category. It’s more like an opera and operas tend to be very dramatic.”Another chance

Though the Globes are often considered a precursor to the Oscars, there have been films that have been completely snubbed by the HFPA but have made their mark with Oscar voters. In 1998, Fine Line’s “The Sweet Hereafter” didn’t receive a single Golden Globe nom but landed director and adapted screenplay noms (both for Atom Egoyan) from the Acad.

For “Almost Famous,” DreamWorks also had to decide which genre slot its well-reviewed pic fell into, choosing to go with the drama category.

Over at Lions Gate, prexy Tom Ortenberg says “Shadow of the Vampire” will wind up in the comedy category, and Willem Dafoe will be placed in supporting actor and John Malkovich in lead actor in a comedy.

“We did some internal soul-searching and decided the picture is a dark comedy and we didn’t want to appear (to be) running away from that,” Ortenberg says.

He also believes that the comedy category shouldn’t be judged on a lower tier than drama; if your film can land a nomination there, that’s all that counts.

“I think the most important thing in the award process is to have your picture taken seriously,” he says. “If you succeed there, it matters less if its comedy or drama. But just as long as the picture is visible and well spoken of, that’s what counts.”

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