In contrast to 2009’s heavily American lineup, most of this year’s contenders for the Golden Globe’s drama pic award exude a distinctly international air. Even the U.S.-based stories demonstrate a Continental brand of verbal sophistication and visual flair that should sit well with the Hollywood Foreign Press — and make their selection process that much harder.
Classic Precursor: Family and hangers-on are caught up in the seasons’ leisurely flow in Mike Leigh’s intimate chronicle, reminiscent in pace and mood of Jane Austen – “Sense and Sensibility” (1995), for instance.
Shot at a Globe Nod: The HPFA hasn’t been especial-Leigh respectful, bestowing top noms only on “Secrets and Lies” (Drama) and “Happy-Go-Lucky” (Comedy/Musical). Tough-to-classify “Year” would have an easier time in the latter category, a less crowded field, but they’re calling it a drama.
If Not the Big One: Lesley Manville’s desperate, anguished friend Mary practically demands Supporting Actress attention — though (again) she may have a more difficult time in the lead category in which she’s been placed.
Classic Precursor: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Latin American odyssey of disease and misery has a clear ancestor in John Huston’s 1984 “Under the Volcano.”
Shot at a Globe Nod: Pic rivals “127 Hours” for sheer grimness, but 2006’s top Globe to “Babel” reveals an HFPA affinity for international sagas of woe.
If Not the Big One: Acting up a storm, Cannes co-honoree Javier Bardem should join the lead perf list handily.
Classic Precursor: “Rosemary’s Baby.” Variety’s Peter Debruge cited the pic’s “highly subjective view of events that calls to mind the psychological disintegration” of the 1968 Polanski classic.
Shot at a Globe Nod: The foreign press has had a thing for neurotic glamor since handing out its first award to “Sunset Boulevard” in 1950.
If Not the Big One: Named twice and winning once (for “Closer”), Natalie Portman is on point to pick up nomination number three.
Classic Precursor: Wry Depression folk tale conjures up 1973’s “Paper Moon,” with crusty grandpa Robert Duvall replacing crusty moppet Tatum O’Neal.
Shot at a Globe Nod: Hinges on how many year-end releases get low at the box office and in critical esteem. Would be better off submitted in the comedy/musical category.
If Not the Big One: Thrice-nominated Bill Murray (winner for “Lost in Translation”) offers a memorably pungent supporting turn as a droll undertaker.
“The Ghost Writer”
Classic Precursor: Courageous individual’s investigation of institutional conspiracy creates the same unease as 1974’s “The Parallax View.”
Shot at a Globe Nod: Implicit critique of U.S./U.K. collusion in human rights abuses in Iraq aside, it’s a real movie-movie with ineffable class, and the foreign scribes like those.
If Not the Big One: Nominating Roman Polanski in this year of his legal woes may feel like an act of solidarity.
Classic Precursor: Absolutely certain about the afterlife and communion with the dead, Clint Eastwood’s intimate epic has no clearer forebear than 1943’s “The Song of Bernadette” with its proud epigraph: “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible.”
Shot at a Globe Nod: Maybe a Matt Damon psychic reading could predict whether sophisticates will laud the leisurely, European-style personal filmmaking, or reject its premise as a folie.
If Not the Big One: Risk-taking, out-of-character scripting from dramatic journalist Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”) could earn respect.
“I Am Love”
Classic Precursor: Luca Guardagnino’s wallow in a privileged Italian family’s passions — financial, sexual and gastronomic — would’ve warmed the heart of Luchino Visconti, the genius behind 1963’s “The Leopard.”
Shot at a Globe Nod: Pic practically hands out a provolone wedge and glass of Valpolicella with every admission, so tailored is it to Continental palates.
If Not the Big One: Providing the kind of international starpower Burt Lancaster brought to Visconti’s epic, Tilda Swinton should figure in the best actress race.
Classic Precursor: Sending a team of specialists to conduct an operation inside a power broker, then get out again under attack with the clock madly ticking, is exactly what we got in “Fantastic Voyage” (1966).
Shot at a Globe Nod: Having bestowed 2009’s top honor on “Avatar” over “The Hurt Locker,” the HFPA probably won’t balk at another big action flick.
If Not the Big One: No reason Christopher Nolan’s ingenious scripting, nominated in 2000 (“Memento”), wouldn’t retain its appeal a decade later.
“The King’s Speech”
Classic Precursor: “My Fair Lady” (1964), in which an eccentric elocutionist transforms an ordinary personality into royalty.
Shot at a Globe Nod: Word perfect for these voters’ tastes: elegant, literate, Eurocentric. Absence of a nom would be a major upset.
If Not the Big One: David Seidler’s screenplay and Colin Firth are pretty sure shots, with Geoffrey Rush likely for supporting.
Classic Precursor: “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), featuring another ordinary young man who becomes extraordinary after meeting his desert destiny. Aron Ralston — he who sliced off his own limb — and Lawrence both come to learn where fate is concerned, “Nothing is written.”
Shot at a Globe Nod: Could go either way, depending on whether the spiritual uplift offsets the nail-biting discomfort. Possible bellwether: Similarly themed “Into the Wild” was shut out in 2007 for everything but score and song.
If Not the Big One: James Franco’s best actor nom. It is written.
Classic Precursor: With highly theatrical material filmed in tight hand-held closeups, half the time you might think you’re watching John Cassavetes’ “Faces” (1969).
Shot at a Globe Nod: May exude more indie intensity than most pix the foreign scribblers ordinarily single out.
If Not the Big One: Don’t bet against seven-time nominee (three-time winner) Nicole Kidman making it eight.
“The Social Network”
Classic Precursor: Control issues, loneliness at the top and conflicting visions of a major business venture absorb the exciting, literate “Executive Suite” (1954) every bit as much as David Fincher’s Facebook saga.
Shot at a Globe Nod: Coming off so much critical acclaim, and tapping (or seeming to tap) into contempo culture, pic is highly likely to be friended.
If Not the Big One: Even those on whom the magic is lost concede the cleverness of Aaron Sorkin’s structure and dialogue.
Classic Precursor: Charles Portis’ picaresque novel became a routine 1969 oater, but the Coen Bros. promise an elegiac journey across eye-popping vistas in the manner of “The Searchers” (1956).
Shot at a Globe Nod: Unclear, podner. Joel ‘n’ Ethan ain’t had much sway at this rodeo in the past. Even Oscar champ “No Country for Old Men” failed to win so much as a best pic Globe mention (though its script done won the trophy).
If Not the Big One: Expectations are high for supporting actor Josh Brolin to milk every ounce of villainy out of psychopath Tom Chaney.