How He Got Here: Bridges’ down-and-out country singer Bad Blake is this year’s version of Mickey Rourke’s redemptive turn in “The Wrestler,” which was last year’s version of a classic award-season staple — the underdog story. Unlike Rourke, Bridges never went away. His Golden Globe nom here is his fourth in 15 years, the latest accomplishment for one of Hollywood’s favorite working actors. With Bad, Bridges may well have fashioned another character for the ages, a self-aware dude whose weakness is also part of his strength (or at least his charm). The HFPA has never been able to resist a song-and-dance man, and Bridges’ work in “Crazy Heart” never misses a beat.
“Up in the Air”
How He Got Here: Award shows love Clooney. He’s a charmer, plays to the audience and the cameras, and is always good for a witty speech or presentation. The HFPA has rarely missed a chance to nominate him — three times for “ER” and another seven nominations, including two wins, for his film career. Recognizing him for “Up in the Air” was a no-brainer, since it might be Clooney’s best work onscreen yet, in a movie that resonates with today’s hard times. He delivers a human portrait of a corporate hatchet man confronting his own hidden yearnings after running from them for nearly 10 million air miles.
“A Single Man”
How He Got Here: He was Mr. Darcy. Then he was Mark Darcy. Women swooned. Now, as a Single Man, Firth is making award-season voters weak in the knees by moving away from Darcy — and the Colin Firth persona — into a role of exquisitely sensual sadness. The fact is that Firth has been making it look easy for a number of years. That kind of effortlessness rarely gets voters’ attention. But here, while playing a Kennedy-era college professor whose life has crumpled under the weight of loss, Firth is a revelation, giving “A Single Man” its sad, beating heart and the HFPA a reason to finally bestow some long-overdue recognition.
How He Got Here: Freeman was award-season bait from the moment it was announced he’d be playing Nelson Mandela for his old pal Clint Eastwood. Like Academy members, HFPA voters find historical dramas catnip. And “Invictus,” with its kumbaya tale of Mandela using South Africa’s rugby team to forge racial harmony in his divided nation, has the sort of import that sets voters’ hearts aflutter. Five-time Globe nominee Freeman even broke down and attempted an accent here. But more importantly, Freeman brought his bedrock grace and gravity to the intimidating challenge of playing a beloved world leader.
How He Got Here: Maguire’s first Globe nomination might be a more impressive feat than anything his superhero alter ego pulled off in three “Spider-Man” movies. Yes, “Brothers” is an Irish director’s remake of a Danish drama that’s partly set in Afghanistan, so it has the kind of international flavor that appeals to HFPA voters. The performance itself has divided critics. Admirers see Maguire diving into uncharted, dark depths; others believe he brings emotional excess to his character’s post-traumatic stress disorder. Whatever your leaning, there’s no doubting the conviction Maguire brings to the movie. Obviously, he swayed enough HFPA members to receive his initial invitation to their party.