HBO projects, Cannes screeners dominate noms

Anyone expecting the Golden Globe nominations announcement to clarify the awards situation had better look elsewhere for help.

Reviewing the Golden Globe nominations, which were announced Dec. 20, film mavens seemed just as puzzled as they were by widely divergent critics’ lists and the picks revealed earlier in the week by the American Film Institute.

Prestige pic “A Beautiful Mind” and razzle-dazzle musical “Moulin Rouge” led a fragmented roster with six noms apiece.

Robert Altman’s period drama “Gosford Park” nabbed five, while “Mulholland Drive” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” got four each.

In a coup for Cannes, four of the 10 best picture nominees (five each for drama and comedy/musical) screened at last May’s film fest.

On the small screen side, HBO — led by tradtional kudo magnets “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City,” along with new critical fave “Six Feet Under” and big-budget World War II mini “Band of Brothers” — dominated the pack with 19 noms. NBC scored 15, while ABC nabbed 11.

While most of the comedy nominations were repeats from last year, half of the best drama series noms went to newcomers, including two frosh hours that stand to greatly benefit from the Globe spotlight: ABC’s action thriller “Alias” and Fox’s conspiracy sudser “24.” Overall, NBC’s “Will & Grace,” with noms for best comedy series and for each of the show’s quartet of thesps, was the most-nominated program.

USA Films, a player in the specialized biz now shrouded in rumors of what its fate will be under Barry Diller, scored nine noms. Among them are a rare trifecta: noms for best drama (“The Man Who Wasn’t There”), best comedy/musical (“Gosford Park”) and best foreign-lingo film (“Monsoon Wedding”).

Billy Bob Thornton and Nicole Kidman will compete against themselves. Both got a lead acting nom in both the drama and comedy/musical categories.

Kidman’s nom for “The Others” was the only one nabbed by the Miramax/Dimension thriller, one of several disappointing showings. Lasse Hallstrom did not get a directing nod for “The Shipping News,” which copped two others. Ditto for Michael Mann with “Ali,” whose three noms also did not include one for picture.

Complete no-shows included “The Majestic,” “I Am Sam,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Charlotte Gray,” “K-PAX,” “Lantana” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

In their place were surprising choices such as “A.I.” (for Steven Spielberg’s direction, Jude Law’s supporting turn and John Williams’ score) and “Bandits,” repped by Thornton and Cate Blanchett. Buoyant female-driven comedies “Bridget Jones,” “Legally Blonde” and “Kate & Leopold” also raised eyebrows with their collective six noms.

“Lord of the Rings” is a rare combo of commercial heft and critical support. The day after it vacuumed up $18.2 million in its domestic single-day debut, it garnered four Globe noms — compared with zero for corporate cousin “Harry Potter.”

“We felt early on that this property had potential for such resonance as an artistic film and as a commercial phenomenon,” said New Line co-chairman and co-CEO Michael Lynne. “Most people focused on the battles and the monsters, but we saw something special taking shape.”

“Rings” was among the pics giving the Globes a Down Under accent. Peter Jackson (“Rings”) and Baz Luhrmann (“Rouge”) each got directing noms, while Kidman, Russell Crowe, Blanchett and Naomi Watts are up for acting prizes.

U.K. natives also made an impact: Ewan McGregor, Judi Dench, Tilda Swinton, Ben Kingsley, “Sexy Beast”; Jim Broadbent, “Iris,” Jude Law, “A.I.” Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren for “Gosford Park” and Kate Winslet, “Iris”

The HFPA hasn’t always been successful in its search for respect — many Hollywoodites talk of the Globes like a drunken uncle who’s a lot of fun, but not to be taken seriously. However, even its detractors have to admit that it’s made great strides. The limited seating (1,200) at the Beverly Hilton Intl. Ballroom and the party atmosphere make it a hot ticket; and the show always garners hot ratings for NBC.

Perhaps most important, showbizzers take the event seriously — particularly Oscar contenders and campaigners. The HFPA has become a force to be reckoned with.

And the awards ceremony takes place on Jan. 20, when Oscar voters still have nomination ballots in hand. The Globes are often touted as a bellwether of the Academy Awards, but that’s not always the case. Many of the Globe nominations are mirrored in later Oscar races, but the winners are erratic.

The nominations announcement on Dec.20 brought glee to some studios and glumness to others. But no one should feel too confident, and no one should lose hope of Oscar attention. Last year, “Sunshine” and “Miss Congeniality” got multiple Globe noms, but went empty-handed with the Oscar bids. Conversely, “The Thin Red Line” got shut out of Globe bids a few years ago, and ended up with seven Oscar nominations.

The org made its choices from 188 films (99 dramas and 89 comedies/musicals), 104 TV series (55 drama and 49 comedies), 69 telepics or miniseries and 42 foreign-language films. In addition, 75 songs are eligible for the Golden Globe for original song.

The Golden Globe Awards will take place Jan. 20 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel with a live telecast airing on NBC at 8 p.m. EST and produced by Dick Clark Prods. in association with the HFPA.

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