Golden Globes: Drama in the Comedy
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

HFPA classifications still leave room for interpretation; and this year there are slots to fill.

It may simply be the race to see who loses to “La La Land”: Along with Damien Chazelle’s crowd-pleasing musical, only Paramount’s “Florence Foster Jenkins,” with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, appears to be a strong contender for the Golden Globes’ comedy/music honor.

Beyond that, it’s not a crowded field. That could lead to some films that straddle the line between comedy and drama seeking refuge in the less-competitive category.

Last year’s race was marked by a number of these nebulous contenders. The ultimate winner, Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” caused a stir over having been submitted as a comedy with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.

“Trying to dominate the comedy category when you are really a drama afraid of dramatic competition is a punk move,” director Judd Apatow, whose “Trainwreck” was in the hunt, said at the time. In accepting the trophy at the awards show, Scott audibly scoffed at the placement.

The HFPA attempted to address the situation in rule changes this year. “Motion pictures shall be entered in the category that best matches the overall tone and content of the motion picture,” the April clarifications stipulated. “Thus, for example, dramas with comedic overtones should be entered as dramas.”

But the ultimate decision falls to the HFPA. The group could have reversed Fox’s classification of “The Martian” last year, but the members held a vote and kept it in the comedy category. So it seems that any update in rulebook language this year was more for show in the wake of the controversy than for anything else.

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Two films staring at that comedy-or-drama dilemma this year also come from Fox. Warren Beatty’s “Rules Don’t Apply” is more a period romp than a prestige drama, while Theodore Melfi’s “Hidden Figures” is said to be in the realm of dramedy, not necessarily “dramatic,” but not laugh-out-loud funny, either. Both could go either way, but expect “Rules” to go the comedy route, and “Figures” to go for drama.

Distributor A24’s “20th Century Women,” meanwhile, delivers consistent chuckles throughout the movie. But an argument could be made for it as a drama, too. For now, the scales appear to be tilting toward comedy.

“Gold” with Matthew McConaughey is also straddling the line, but it’s viewed more as a drama with comedic undertones than an outright comedy, so the Weinstein Co. will likely submit as a drama.

The lack of obvious comedy players does make the Golden Globes race exciting. And the HFPA has an unusual sense of humor, as witnessed by nominations for films like “Red” and “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” as comedies.

Maybe venturing further afield could yield comedy/musical nominations for oddities like Taika Waititi’s beloved “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”; “Swiss Army Man,” the Paul Dano/Daniel Radcliffe “farting corpse” movie; or even Andy Samberg’s music-industry send-up “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.” Sony Pictures Classics also just picked up a possible player, Taylor Hackford’s “The Comedian” with Robert De Niro.

Warner Bros. could find some love with the summer buddy comedy “The Nice Guys.” Critical darlings like “Sing Street” from the Weinstein Co. and “The Lobster” from A24 are in play as well. And if members of the HFPA have long enough memories, there’s the Coen brothers’ February release “Hail, Caesar!” to consider.

And don’t laugh, but speaking of early-year possibilities, 2016’s first big box office story has fans in the HFPA: “Deadpool.” Though the group may just be eager to save a place for star Ryan Reynolds at one of their tables.

However it shakes out, definitions of “comedy” and “drama” will continue to differ from viewer to viewer. So expect the usual griping as the various films slide into position in an attempt to appeal to HFPA members.

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