Comedies and musicals thrive in tough economic times, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the 69th Golden Globes boast the strongest list of nominees in that category for many years.

For the first time in nearly a decade, there’s a real chance that the winner of the Golden Globe for best musical and comedy could be a serious challenger at the Academy Awards.

Just one comedy/musical nominee in the past three years has gone on to an Oscar nomination — last year’s Golden Globe victor “The Kids Are All Right.” And the last time the winner of the best picture Oscar came from this category was “Chicago” in 2002.

But with nods for “The Artist,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Bridesmaids,” “My Week With Marilyn” and “50/50,” this year’s contest looks every bit as substantial as the race for best drama.

“The Artist” in particular leads the overall Golden Globe nods with six, and is firmly established as the awards season front-runner with the guilds and critics groups. In each of the past four decades, just one Golden Globe comedy/musical winner has taken the Oscar for best picture, and the odds are shortening on “The Artist” achieving that feat in the 2010s.

The HFPA voters have certainly managed to avoid handing any easy targets for the show’s returning host Ricky Gervais, after last year’s eccentric selection of nominees including “The Tourist,” “Red” and “Burlesque,” which confirmed the traditional status of this section as a lightweight sideshow to the main event.

But that may be due in part to a cultural misunderstanding. The HFPA is, after all, an organization of foreign journalists, albeit based in Los Angeles. Comedy is notoriously known as the genre in which the gulf in national tastes is greatest.

“The Tourist” may have been dismissed as a disappointment in America, but this European-financed movie, set in Italy and directed by a German, was a genuine hit overseas, where it grossed $208 million against $68 million domestic.

In fact, in the past three years, 11 out of the 15 comedy/musical nominees have grossed more in foreign than domestic. The total domestic gross of these 15 films was $1.3 billion, but their total foreign gross was $2.1 billion.

The evidence of international tastes is visible again this year, with a decidedly Gallic flavor infusing the nominations. “The Artist,” of course, is a French homage to Hollywood, while Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” returns the favor with an American auteur indulging his amour for the French capital.

Perhaps it’s only a coincidence that one of the central conflicts in “Bridesmaids” also revolves around a French-themed engagement party and a trip to Paris. A short hop across the Channel, “My Week With Marilyn” is this year’s British entry.

There’s no shortage of weighty dramatic themes among these supposed lighter-hearted contenders, including cancer (“50/50”) and depression (“Bridesmaids”). But there’s also ample evidence of the HFPA’s love for the froth of Hollywood with “The Artist” and “My Week With Marilyn.” “Midnight in Paris” reflects the org’s abiding fondness for Allen; it’s the helmer’s ninth pic to get nominated.

But that leaves no place for more frivolous fare such as “The Muppets” or “Footloose,” while “Beginners,” “Carnage,” “Young Adult” and “Crazy Stupid Love” also get squeezed out despite picking up acting nods.

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The Contenders
Drama: Best Picture | Comedy: Best Picture | Best Director | Drama Actor/Actress | Comedy Actor/Actress