Comedy-musical noms leave observers surprised

HFPA choices of Depp, Jolie make for splashy show

For all the derision the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has generated this year with its acting nominees in the motion picture musical-comedy category, it should at least be noted that in the past, the group has displayed a decent eye for nominating comic performances — Amy Adams in “Enchanted” and Sally Hawkins for “Happy-Go-Lucky” — that Academy voters have unjustly ignored.

That said, this year: Johnny Depp? Twice?

“The double nomination for Johnny Depp shows again that they’re trying to get big names to come to their event,” says film historian David Thomson, whose “New Biographical Dictionary of Film” just updated in its fifth edition. “Fair enough, but just so long as we’re clear about what kind of show they’re running.”

Sifting through this year’s slate of lead acting nominees in both the drama and musical-comedy categories, it would appear HFPA voters have become a bit more transparent in their desire to fill the Beverly Hills Hotel’s banquet room with A-list stars. Both Depp and co-star Angelina Jolie were nominated in the lead comedy category for “The Tourist,” a movie many critics have opined is neither very funny nor very good.

“But Angelina’s dresses were fabulous,” Mary Pols, film critic for Time.com and MSN Movies notes. You could see a costume design nomination, if the HFPA had a costume design category. But acting? They could just as well have nominated Cher from ‘Burlesque’ and know that she’d show up wearing a more interesting dress.”

“Burlesque” did receive three Globe nominations, which is three more than the Coens’ acclaimed western “True Grit” received. Thomson says he was surprised the lead actor drama category didn’t include last year’s winner and this year’s “True Grit” star, Jeff Bridges.

“I’m not completely sold on the film, but I think Bridges is a lot better this year than last year when he won the Oscar,” Thomson says, referring to the actor’s “Crazy Heart” win.

That lead actor drama category steers more toward the conventional. Nominees include Colin Firth, winner of both the Los Angeles and New York film critics prizes for “The King’s Speech,” and award-season contenders Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) and James Franco (“127 Hours”). Joining them are Ryan Gosling (“Blue Valentine”) and surprise nominee Mark Wahlberg (“The Fighter”).

“I think that Mark Wahlberg turns out to be one of the best things about ‘The Fighter,’ ” says Oscar blogger Sasha Stone. “I was surprised they went with such a subtle choice, but when they love a movie, they try to wring out as many nominations as possible. And they clearly loved ‘The Fighter.’?”

Besides the double-dip for Depp on the lead comedy side, the HFPA leaned on big names in small movies — Paul Giamatti in “Barney’s Version,” Kevin Spacey for “Casino Jack” and Jake Gyllenhaal’s soul-and-skin-baring turn in “Love and Other Drugs.”

“You can belittle some of these nominations, and believe me, we do,” says one studio executive, “but the fact is, it was a bad year for movie comedies. You need look no further than ‘How Do You Know,’ ‘Little Fockers’ and ‘Due Date’ to see that.”

On the actress side, along with Jolie, the musical-comedy noms feature both leads — Annette Bening and Julianne Moore — from “The Kids Are All Right,” Gyllenhaal’s “Love” co-star Anne Hathaway and newcomer Emma Stone from “Easy A,” a riff on “The Scarlet Letter.”

“Bening is generally underrated,” Thomson says. “You can’t say she’s ignored, but she’s still not appreciated enough for how good of an actress she is.”

The New York Film Critics Circle awarded Bening its best actress prize. Her competition with the Academy resides in the Globes’ lead drama category — Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”), Michelle Williams (“Blue Valentine”) and Nicole Kidman (“Rabbit Hole”).

Halle Berry was also nominated in the category, though her film, the multiple-personality-disorder drama “Frankie and Alice,” remains a bit off the award-season radar, having opened in a limited, qualifying release.

“Michelle Williams has been doing great work for a while now,” Pols says, noting she cast a vote for the actress when the San Francisco Film Critics Circle named her best actress. “I still wonder and think about Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Winter’s Bone.’ I think a lot of male critics were just grateful to have something lovely to look at while watching the film.”

No matter who was nominated, and who ultimately wins and loses, Awards Daily’s Stone says people shouldn’t get too worked up over HFPA “injustices.”

“No one watching the Globes is going to complain about Johnny Depp being there,” Stone says. “It’s a victimless crime.”

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