Four thesps selected in Russell's pugilist pic

The Golden Globes’ lead acting drama nominees didn’t quite match their comedy counterparts in terms of head-scratchers, but the nods did contain a few pockets of intrigue.

The lead actor drama category sported favored contenders Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”), James Franco (“127 Hours”) and Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”), but also included one mild surprise (Ryan Gosling, “Blue Valentine”) and the rather striking selection of “The Fighter” star Mark Wahlberg.

“The Fighter” received six Globe nominations, including expected noms for supporting players Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams. But Wahlberg’s lead work as the palooka boxer battling long odds — not to mention his family — in a quest for glory hasn’t been on the awards-season radar until now, primarily because of its understated nature.

“Mark’s playing the guy at the center of the storm, reacting to these crazy characters spinning around him,” director David O. Russell tells Variety. “It’s very much a performance from the Spencer Tracy school of acting. You know, ‘Don’t let them catch you do it.’ It’s not showy, but not many people can do it.”

Wahlberg’s nomination came at the expense of indie contenders Robert Duvall (“Get Low”) and Javier Bardem (“Biutiful”), last year’s category winner Jeff Bridges (“True Grit”) and Leonardo DiCaprio, who had high-profile work in “Inception” and “Shutter Island.”

For lead actress drama, HFPA voters recognized Gosling’s “Blue Valentine” co-star, Michelle Williams. It’s a nod to her raw, soulful work and, taken with Gosling’s nomination, is a further confirmation of distributor Harvey Weinstein’s ability to work the HFPA membership to his films’ advantage. (You belong to a select club if you remember Felicity Huffman’s win in the lead category in 2005 for “Transamerica.”)

The actress category features two other women who began their careers as teenagers: Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) and Jennifer Lawrence, who, at the ripe old age of 20, finds herself nominated for “Winter’s Bone.” Joining them are past winners Nicole Kidman (“Rabbit Hole”), an HFPA favorite who ran off an unbroken string of nominations from 2001-04, and Halle Berry, whose identity disorder drama “Frankie and Alice” has only opened in a limited, qualifying release.

Left out are Brit Lesley Manville (“Another Year”) and Scot Tilda Swinton (“I Am Love”). Manville’s omission, on the heels of being ignored by the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. as well, doesn’t bode well for her Oscar prospects. Her affecting performance in Mike Leigh’s ensemble drama “Another Year” won raves and an award from the National Board of Review, but Sony Pictures Classics may have erred in placing her in the lead, not supporting, category.

Then again, Manville may simply be a victim not of numbers, but star power. The HFPA has a long history of nominating A-listers to boost audience interest and, by extension, television ratings.

Berry and Wahlberg qualify on that count. Manville does not, though there is one bright spot for her on the horizon: BAFTA announces its nominations Jan. 18.

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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