'Atonement,' musicals lead the pack

Click here for the full list of nominees

“Atonement” had little to atone for on Thursday, as the wartime drama led the Golden Globes charge with seven nominations.

Along with best drama, pic got nods for writing, direction and stars Keira Knightly and James McAvoy. It also scored noms for supporting actress Saoirse Ronan and score.

“American Gangster,” “Eastern Promises,” “The Great Debaters,” “Michael Clayton,” “No Country For Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” rounded out the drama field, which expanded to seven contenders.

According to a Globes spokesman, the swollen drama roster indicates a three-way tie for the fifth slot — a procedural approach that also led to six series and seven actresses vying on the TV drama front.

“Across the Universe,” “Hairspray” and “Sweeney Todd,” meanwhile, delivered a rare show of musical force within the musical-comedy category, while the fact-based “Charlie Wilson’s War” (which trailed “Atonement” by receiving five noms) and “Juno” fill out that lineup.

In other multiple nominees, “No Country,” “Clayton” and “Sweeney” garnered four apiece.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. spread the honors wide, with five films gathering three noms each, six pics with two apiece and a whopping 19 films earning one nom.

While the studios’ and networks’ top concern these days is the writers strike, the Globe noms failed to calm another case of jitters: The lack of clarity this awards season.

With Oscar noms looming, many films are jockeying for attention, while bloggers and critics groups are offering enthusiasm (or lack) for a wide range of films. Scattering Globes’ noms across 35 titles doesn’t exactly narrow the field, so studios will continue to fret about the viability of their films (was it released too long ago? is it too violent? too downbeat? too esoteric?, etc.).

Two actors scored a pair of nominations in the lead and supporting spheres.

Cate Blanchett received hers for perhaps the strangest biopic pairing ever — playing Queen Elizabeth in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There” — while Philip Seymour Hoffman earned his for “The Savages” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

As usual, the list of contenders boasted a number of stars, including George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, ensuring viewer interest for the Jan. 13 telecast on NBC (assuming the stars don’t choose to honor possible WGA picket lines).

Among studios, NBC Universal units posted a strong overall showing, with Focus Features and Universal Pictures combining for four of the dozen best-movie slots and 20 nominations.

Focus chief James Schamus was happy to bask in the moment for “Atonement” and “Eastern Promises,” saying that while the final outcome appears wide open, “these nominations today are joy enough.”

The relatively new animated movie category is entirely populated by major boxoffice hits: “Bee Movie,” “The Simpsons Movie” and “Ratatouille.”

A fourth animated film, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Persepolis,” landed a foreign-language berth.

After his dual directing noms last year, Eastwood also turned up in a new milieu, with score and song recognition for “Grace is Gone.”

Voted on by the 80-some-odd members of the HFPA, the Globes gained significance as an Academy Awards bellwether, with Oscar’s best picture winner for 1992-2003 having also been feted at the Globes 11 out of 12 times.

However, in recent years its role as a predictor has waned. In January, the Globes saluted “Babel” and “Dreamgirls.” The latter failed even to secure a best picture nomination, and “The Departed” won the Oscar.

But the Globes has gained its own status in the last decade, due to the kudocast’s strong ratings and the fact that it’s become a key campaign stop in the pre-Oscar season, so for Hollywood, being nominated is almost more important than winning.

In the wake of the hubbub caused last year when U.S. productions “Apocalypto” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” snagged foreign-language film bids, a similar complication has again arisen.

“The Kite Runner,” set in Afghanistan, U.S.-French co-production “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and Focus’ “Lust, Caution” (Taiwan) are competing, as are “Persepolis” (France) and “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (Romania).

The Globes don’t consider foreign-language films in their other two best pic races, while Oscar has a completely different set of criteria.

In television, the Globes have historically enjoyed getting a jump on the Emmys, and the latest round is no exception.

Five first-year series that have yet to be eligible for Emmy consideration — “Mad Men,” “Damages,” “Californication,” ABC’s months-old “Pushing Daisies” and “The Tudors” — were extended series bids, accounting for nearly half the total.

And while HBO remained the most-nommed net, the pay net again saw significant inroads made by Showtime, FX and AMC in key categories, reflecting heightened competition especially in terms of prestige dramas. “Damages” topped all series by virtue of bids to star Glenn Close and supporting players Ted Danson and Rose Byrne.

The strong showing that British performers often make with the international voters is also evident in this year’s TV selections — including three of five made-for-TV movie or miniseries nominees: HBO’s “Five Days” and “Longford” and BBC America’s “The State Within.”

Another HBO-BBC collaboration, “Extras,” and Showtime’s Elizabethan drama “The Tudors” took series bids as well, as did U.K. thesps Minnie Driver (“The Riches”), Ricky Gervais (“Extras”) “Daisies” star Anna Friel, “Tudors” king Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Hugh Laurie — a Globe recipient last year for “House.”

In terms of categories to watch, none might be more brutal than lead actress in a drama series, which — reflecting the migration of experienced female talent to TV — showcases Oscar winners Holly Hunter (for another newcomer, TNT’s “Saving Grace”) and Sally Field (already Emmy-adorned for “Brothers & Sisters”) along with five-time Oscar nominee Close. In addition, Edie Falco and Kyra Sedgwick are past Globe honorees for “The Sopranos” and “The Closer,” respectively.

The Globes doubtless represent welcome promotional boost for “Mad Men” and “Damages,” which each drew modest ratings and were temporarily touch-and-go in terms of gaining second-season renewals. In a symbolic baton pass, both shows are produced by alumni of “The Sopranos,” which, despite a walk-off Emmy, was omitted from the HFPA’s list.

Among other Globes footnotes, Ernest Borgnine, 90, has a chance to become the oldest winner ever for the recent Hallmark Channel movie “A Grandpa for Christmas.” Borgnine’s previous Globe came in 1955 for “Marty,” when he also took home an Academy Award. Jessica Tandy was 80 when honored for “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Beyond concerns about who attends this year’s ceremony, the writers strike could impact the production itself. If nothing else, should the walkout continue it threatens to dampen the celebratory tone generally associated with awards season.

Steven Spielberg has been chosen to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

Click here for the full list of nominees

Click here for the Golden Globes scorecard.

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