Exotic or foreign-set films dominate film category

Tilting from the template a bit, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has chosen to fill its drama category this year with one potential blockbuster (James Cameron’s adventure-fantasy “Avatar”), one star-driven but small-scale vehicle (Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” with George Clooney), two war movies (Quentin Tarantino’s WWII revenge-fantasy “Inglourious Basterds” and Kathryn Bigelow’s taut, unpreachy Iraq War nail-biter “The Hurt Locker”) and an intimate, harrowing inner-city tale of adolescent perseverance (Lee Daniels’ “Precious”).

And though the majority of the faces behind the pics aren’t exactly fresh — Cameron’s last film, “Titanic” (1997), won in this category; Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” (1994) was nommed here, and Reitman’s “Juno” placed two years ago in the best comedy/musical category — “The Hurt Locker” and “Precious” represent a bit of a shake-up. Each was made by a newbie to this category — the former by a woman, the latter by a black man.

Plus, there are two war movies in the mix. The last time the Globes nommed even one (“Saving Private Ryan”) was more than a decade ago.

Over the past three years, the Globes have remained true to their foreign roots. Last year, the HFPA picked the India-set drama “Slumdog Millionaire” preceded by the English “Atonement” and the international “Babel.” One has to go back to 2006 to find an American story, “Brokeback Mountain,” that took the top prize. It was a year memorable for the HFPA refusal to nominate the Oscar’s eventual winner, “Crash,” also set in the States. If foreign subject matter prevails, “Inglourious Basterds” could win. Then again, what’s more exotic than the planet Pandora in “Avatar”?

This year, more than ever before, the Globes resemble the Tonys, which has a tendency to nom every show that opens. In addition to its usual 10 noms for dramas and comedy/musicals, the HFPA also put up five titles for animated feature. With 15 titles now competing as best pictures of various sorts, not to be nominated suddenly becomes the story. So where are the Brits? “The Last Station” (though set in Russia, it couldn’t be more English), “An Education” and “The Young Victoria” were not overlooked in the actor categories, but they saw no action in the best picture ones. And Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” collected zero noms, even though Aussie helmer’s “The Piano” made the cut back in 1994.

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