'Burn After Reading,' 'Happy-Go-Lucky,' 'In Bruges,' 'Mamma Mia!,' 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'

Burn After Reading

How it got here: Though in like Flynn with the motion picture Academy, the brothers Coen have always made the HFPA a little nervous over the years. “Fargo” won zip, and practically the only top honor “No Country for Old Men” failed to nab was a Golden Globe. “Burn After Reading” may fare better with this group. Crafting a sharp satire of U.S. bureaucratic hijinks is a fine way to get into the foreign press’s good graces, especially with a Golden Globe-winning actor like George Clooney (“Syriana” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) or Brad Pitt (“12 Monkeys”) aboard — and “Burn After Reading” employed both.

Happy-Go-Lucky

How it got here: The foreign press has never quite seemed to know what to make of Britain’s Mike Leigh. The writer-helmer-curmudgeon has enjoyed only one top film nod (“Secrets and Lies” in drama for 1996) and none for himself as scribe or helmer, reflecting this org’s unease with the darker themes of “Naked” and “Vera Drake.” But in a year of turmoil, tragedy and financial chaos, this irresistible portrait of a pluperfect cockeyed optimist could not help but stand out. The voters like upbeat and sunny in this category, and nothing was sunnier than the smile of Sally Hawkins (also nommed) as never-say-die Poppy.

In Bruges

How it got here: The HFPA rarely shows love for scruffy, violent shoot-’em-ups, even those with European roots like “Snatch,” “Sexy Beast” or “Gangster #1.” But helmer-scribe Martin McDonagh has been one of the hottest playwrights on either side of the Pond for a decade, and his first short film copped an Oscar, so this funny, bloody thriller had the pedigree to pull through. Showing off Bruges, Belgium (“the most perfectly preserved medieval city in Europe,” according to one of its hitman protagonists), as a picture-perfect fairyland couldn’t have hurt pic’s chances either.

Mamma Mia!

How it got here: How could it not? It’s a project tailor-made for foreign-press appeal: a long-running hit of British origin, a world-famous score by Swedish musical superstars and a multinational cast cavorting around an exotic overseas location. Meryl Streep is the Globes’ “Dancing Queen,” and her tuner brought in so much “Money Money Money” that the HFPA felt obliged to say, “Thank You.” Add to that the traditional dominance of tuners in this category, including the last three winners: “Walk the Line,” “Dreamgirls” and “Sweeney Todd.” Luckiest break: the decision to put “Slumdog Millionaire” into contention as a drama.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

How it got here: “Hannah and Her Sisters” won in this category in 1986, but Woody Allen’s brand of Gotham savvy and midlife navel-gazing hasn’t gone over especially big with the HFPA through the years. Interestingly, his pics set wholly or partly in Europe have done well (with nominations for “Everyone Says I Love You” and “Match Point”), and this Eric Rohmeresque love quadrangle — awash in the sensual beauties of Barcelona — seems to have enraptured the GG voters, who cited three of the quadrangle’s four sides (Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall and Penelope Cruz) in the thesp categories.

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