War pics vie for top Globe prize

'Precious' gives drama category an indie flavor

“AVATAR”
Cameron offers innovative and compelling filmmaking
How It Got Here: To hear some describe it, James Cameron’s 3D sci-fi blockbuster has now expunged all other action-fantasy pics into Blockbuster bargain-bin oblivion. If voters decide to go visual in their pick, “Avatar,” full of grand-scale sci-fi plumage and an orgiastic explosion of unprecedented and spellbinding CGI technical tricks (all of which Cameron pioneered with a team of special-effects whizzes), could take the night’s top prize. Moviegoers have taken wantonly to Cameron’s fantastical world of magical realism (think “Lord of the Rings” amped up), a vfx spectacle of light, sight and sound. But the film is not without compelling plot. Cameron’s chronicling of a passion-charged, star-crossed, interspecies love story represents filmmaking in its most innovative and compelling form.

“THE HURT LOCKER”
Bigelow provides blood-pumping action that works on emotions too
How It Got Here: The past few years have produced some perfectly mediocre Iraq War films, most of which have failed to thrill auds or make any significant artistic mark. Rather, they’ve been manipulative, moralistic, aiming to convey some sort of social message. But war is hell and cinema is cinema, and if you’re going to make a convincing movie about the horrors of large-scale military battle, you had better commit full-throttle. Because Kathryn Bigelow’s filmic essay on Iraq is the first to approach this level of visceral intensity, the Globes have taken notice. For a culture ever confused by America’s presence in Iraq, Bigelow provides the blood-pumping action sequences and herky-jerky camera angles that close in on war’s emotional and corporeal chaos.

“INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”
WWII drama will battle Iraq war actioner
How It Got Here: In Quentin Tarantino’s World War II epic, a team of Jewish-American Nazi killers, with Brad Pitt at the helm, vows to whack as many SS officers as it can in Vichy-regime France. Brutal and explosive — and, let’s face it, what rational person doesn’t want to see Nazis get violently squashed? — “Basterds” (with four Globe noms) is Tarantino at his clever, colorful best. Hailed by many critics as one of their favorite films of the year, Globe voters could find themselves literally caught between wars — Tarantino’s alternative outcome to WWII and Bigelow’s culturally resonant account of Iraq.

“PRECIOUS”
Indie’s focus on character appeals
How It Got Here: If “Avatar” boasts all the vfx bells and whistles, “Precious” falls into the indie-movie-that-could category (it nabbed the grand jury prize at Sundance). It’s easy to see why the global press is drawn to helmer Lee Daniels’ drama, which chronicles the struggles of an overweight, illiterate African-American girl pregnant by her father for the second time. Unflinching, unapologetic and downright unnerving, “Precious” plays very much like a foreign film, focusing on character development and such incendiary topics as incest and HIV. Critics tend to gravitate toward fictional films that speak the truth, and in this respect, “Precious” has nailed it, with all the horror of the “Slumdog” slums sans the pretty-bow ending. Discerning voters love a downer.

“UP IN THE AIR”
Snappy script and old-school approach win org’s respect
How It Got Here: As its title suggests, Jason Reitman’s “Juno” follow-up is on an upward trajectory, soaring commercially and fielding mile-high marks from enamored film critics and enthusiastic cineastes in the way of six Globe noms, more than any other film. The pic is classic, old-school Hollywood of the sort that often curries favor with HFPA journos. A matinee idol (George Clooney as a frequent-flying commitment-phobe), tastefully orchestrated sex scene (aside from a brief Vera Farmiga butt, there’s no nudity) and a snappy script (inked by Reitman and Sheldon Turner, based on the Walter Kirn novel) teeming with smooth, cool banter a la Bogart and Hepburn. With plenty of buzz and good will, “Air” is a feel-good film that doesn’t compromise integrity for a convenient, cop-out ending.

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