Best Director: HFPA drawn to Eastwood

Golden Globes Countdown

It would be safe to say the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has been very, very good to Clint Eastwood.

Not only has the former leading man received a rare, but not unprecedented, two Golden Globe directing nominations this year (for “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima”), but he already possesses five statuettes, which includes a World Film Favorite distinction in 1971, the year of “Dirty Harry,” and the organization’s highest honor, the Cecil B. DeMille award for career achievement.

More important, three of his competitive Globe wins were for directing, dating back to 1988’s “Bird,” which neither the Academy nor the DGA recognized in its noms that year.

Over the past two decades, the HFPA and the Academy have been in agreement in crowning the year’s top director 14 times, which gives Eastwood’s dual noms the appearance of momentum in an awards season that has seen few clear consensus picks. And if this business of both organizations being enamored of actor-turned-directors (both have bestowed helming honors on Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Warren Beatty and Robert Redford each year they were nominated by the two bodies), then the tea leaves might favor Eastwood going in.

But there are two mitigating factors that might prevent Eastwood from getting his fourth directing Globe: the Scorsese factor and the split-vote theory.

As the Academy’s most notorious helmer bridesmaid (seven noms, zero wins), Martin Scorsese has taken on the role of underdog, which, if there’s such a thing as the sympathy vote, could work in his favor.

The New York filmmaker has enjoyed slightly better luck with the HFPA, which awarded him for 2003’s “Gangs of New York.” This, despite superior reviews for his current contender “The Departed,” and the sense that this year Scorsese has his best shot at a directing laurel (from both orgs, as well as the DGA, whose top award also has eluded him) since 1991’s “Goodfellas” (he’s already been anointed by the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle).

In terms of a split vote, the closest parallel of recent years was in 2000, when Steven Soderbergh was twice nominated by both orgs for “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic.” If one were to believe the split-vote theory, then Ang Lee benefited that year by taking the director Globe for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” But the argument doesn’t hold water in terms of the Academy, which gave its award to Soderbergh for “Traffic.”

Of this year’s remaining nominees, Stephen Frears (“The Queen”) and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel”) might be considered the true underdogs, despite the latter’s film having gleaned the most nominations (seven) from the HFPA, closely followed by “The Departed” (six).

Surprisingly, this is Frears’ first Golden Globe nomination, despite a resume that includes “Dangerous Liaisons,” “The Grifters” and “Dirty Pretty Things.”

Inarritu, too, is a first-time Globe nominee, and there might be the sense that this is the first of many such nominations to come, a sentiment that would favor the veterans in the race. It’s worth noting “Babel” took the top director prize at Cannes, but the various Cannes juries over the years might be as far from the tastes of the HFPA and the Academy as Tokyo, Morocco and the U.S./Mexican border — the three settings of “Babel’s” intertwining stories — are from each other.

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