Clearly, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has a thing for fact-based films starring Denzel Washington. In an unusually crowded race in its top drama slot, the org nominated both “American Gangster,” starring Washington as 1970s drug lord Frank Lucas, and the thesp’s sophomore directing effort, “The Great Debaters,” in which he coaches a black college debate team in the 1930s.
While “Debaters” will have to content itself with a picture nom, “American Gangster” was also cited for Washington’s turn and Ridley Scott’s direction, giving the crime saga a leg up in this category. It doesn’t hurt that “Gangster” is the only nominee to have cracked $100 million so far (although “Debaters” and “There Will Be Blood” have yet to open).
The HFPA also went for gangsters across the Pond: David Cronenberg, whose “A History of Violence” was nominated in 2005, is back with London mob movie “Eastern Promises.” (Between this and “Sweeney Todd,” the Golden Globes have embraced the season’s barbershop throat-slitting motif.)
But the strongest shot in the arm was administered to “Atonement.” Helmer Joe Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel drew mixed critical response Stateside, despite successful fest launches in Venice and Toronto, but its pack-leading seven nominations reps a clear show of dominance by the British period romance. Acting nominations for George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton also suggests strong support for Tony Gilroy’s corporate thriller “Michael Clayton,” the only debut feature in the race.
That leaves two pics that have thus far dominated the crix awards: the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s turn-of-the-century oil epic, “There Will Be Blood.” While “No Country” has the greater momentum with its four noms, both films boast indelible performances by men of ruthless cunning (Javier Bardem and Daniel Day-Lewis, respectively), and both offer tough, pitiless variations on this year’s resurgent genre, the Western — all too fitting for a race the HFPA deemed worthy of a magnificent seven.