All five pics have serious backers

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. may have picked only one eventual best picture Oscar winner in its past six years, but its five drama nominees this year represent the most assured pack of big dog frontrunners in a while.

The films in the final circle run the gamut from heartwarming (Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech,” about George VI’s overcoming a stammer) to horrifying (Darren Aronofsky’s personality disintegration thriller “Black Swan”), and from ear-bending (David Fincher’s smartest-talkers-in-the-room Facebook saga “The Social Network” and David O. Russell’s exuberantly East Coast-accented boxing yarn “The Fighter”) to mind-splitting (Christopher Nolan’s perception puzzle “Inception”).

If there’s little that’s surprising about what was included in this bunch from the standpoint of awards season chatter, the nominees still carry their share of eyebrow-raising in terms of Globes history. The character-focused suspense films “Inception” and “Black Swan,” for example, make for interesting choices, as the foreign press typically like their more genre-flavored entries to carry a heavier whiff of social commentary (“Michael Clayton,” “A History of Violence”) or issue-mongering (“Avatar,” “The Constant Gardener”). “Inception,” though, does carry that international flair — from casting to locations, and made by a Brit — that usually signifies a Golden Globe nominee.

The other three, meanwhile, rep an unusual spotlight on fact-based stories — an English royal’s noted speech handicap (“The King’s Speech”), a pair of real-life boxers (“The Fighter”), and the founding of a modern Internet phenomenon (“The Social Network”) — for a group that often prefers novel adaptations or original material. (The last time historical figures dominated this category was 2004, marked by entries “Kinsey,” “Hotel Rwanda,” “Finding Neverland” and “The Aviator.”)

This is also arguably the funniest drama category in a while, from the propulsive banter of Aaron Sorkin’s “Social Network” screenplay, to the dry English wit in “The King’s Speech” and the rudely wise working-class humor that permeates “The Fighter,” which might have more laughs than any film in the comedy-musical category.

On the director front, Fincher represents the only one with a repeat entry in this category, following his 2008 also-ran “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The other pics rep first-time shots at the top film prize for their directors, which is remarkable considering the fact that director Martin Scorsese of 2004 winner “The Aviator” had “Shutter Island” in contention, and “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle was in the running with “127 Hours.”

As far as omissions go, however, the most notable is Joel and Ethan Coen’s acclaimed western adaptation “True Grit” — a shutout overall from the foreign press — since the Coens have seen their films place twice in the last three years (“No Country for Old Men” in drama and “Burn After Reading” in the comedy-musical category), and “True Grit” recently scored 11 nominations from the Broadcast Critics.

One HFPA member says they understand the discussion about the “True Grit” shutout, but retorts that it would be difficult to discount any of the five dramas that were nominated in order to make room for the Western.

All in all, though, this year’s drama list doesn’t have any head-scratchers, as in the years when “The Great Debaters” and “Bobby” wound up with top prize nominations.

More from Golden Globes Countdown:
Globes receives high star wattage | Globe drama noms an impressive bunch | Comedy-musical noms are an eclectic mix | ‘Big Bang’ lands HFPA love | Wahlberg has fighter’s chance | Hard-charging trio makes Globes debut

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