One sings, one's goofy, one's in action, two new to HFPA

MATT DAMON
“The Informant”
How He Got Here: Steven Soderbergh’s corporate satire was a pic that might have gotten lost if not for the inclusion of comedy perfs, where Damon’s committed, earnest performance as an out-of-control FBI linchpin for a massive price-fixing case — an instance of true-life craziness lending itself easily to movie laughs — fit perfectly for the HFPA. With an entirely different Damon getting recognized in the supporting actor category as a rugby captain in “Invictus,” it’s a year of showcase versatility for the much-in-demand thesp, who previously won a screenplay Globe for “Good Will Hunting.” Besides, funny mustaches do well here. (Think past winners Sacha Baron Cohen, Gene Hackman and George Clooney.)

DANIEL DAY-LEWIS
“Nine”
How He Got Here: It was a little surprising to see one of the world’s foremost dramatic actors, and a previous winner for “There Will Be Blood,” in the HFPA’s yearly smile-givers/toe-tappers category. But there he was, giving his typical 110% as a womanizing filmmaker in Rob Marshall’s pic, turning his gift for inner turmoil into singing and dancing, which served Johnny Depp well when he snagged this Globe for “Sweeney Todd.” Was there also kinship, too, from a body of foreign journalists with the plight of a brooding Italian artist? The film did score five noms, after all, including for Day-Lewis’ co-stars, Marion Cotillard and Penelope Cruz.

ROBERT DOWNEY JR.
“Sherlock Holmes”
How He Got Here: Downey’s resurgence as a star, and refreshing emergence as a franchise-bolstering actor, is getting an awards-season stamp of approval from the HFPA with this nom. They’re basically saying, amid all the Victorian production design, CGI splendor and Guy Ritchie-fueled action, Downey still made a charming, enjoyably cocky stand as Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary sleuth. Downey seems to be making his way around the Globes, too, earning his fourth nom for an entirely different category, after last year’s supporting nod (for “Tropic Thunder”), a TV win (for “Ally McBeal”) and an ensemble win (for “Short Cuts”).

MICHAEL STUHLBARG
“A Serious Man”
How He Got Here: Beware the newcomer. For an award usually kindest to established stars showing their funny-bone chops, indie fave Gordon-Levitt is a cutie-pie dark horse for his winning turn as a love-struck office drone in this breezy romantic comedy. The HFPA may find it impossible to resist not only his achingly charm-filled wooing of Zooey Deschanel (where’s her nom?) but his joyous breaking into song in the park, as well. See, comedy and musical! This is his first Globe nom, but it has sleeper power behind it.

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT
“500 Days of Summer”
How He Got Here: Beware the newcomer who hadn’t made a cinematic impression before this year. Especially if he has the chutzpah of the Coen brothers behind him, as journeyman actor Stuhlbarg did for his turn in “A Serious Man” as an indignity-besieged professor in the Midwest of the 1960s. The institutionalized quirk and polarizing nature of this clearly very personal project of the Coens clearly has resonated with some, and the HFPA clearly saw Stuhlbarg’s comically precise reactions and old-school air of neurotic worry as the movie’s standout characteristic.

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