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Will voters push awards envelope?

Globe noms give boost to handful of pics at crucial juncture

Congrats to this week’s AFI, Broadcast Film Critics, SAG and Globes contenders — and to those who were left out, don’t give up hope. With upcoming noms from other guilds, BAFTA and AMPAS, remember that those voters are very different from critics and HFPA members.

In a wide-open race so far, several films have scored consistently in kudos announcements, including “The Artist,” “Bridesmaids,” “The Descendants,” “The Help,” “Hugo,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Moneyball” and “War Horse,” along with star vehicles like “My Week With Marilyn,” “Shame” and “Young Adult.” Looking good, but no consensus: “The Tree of Life” and “50/50.”

Thursday’s Globes announcement boosted the must-see factor of these films for future kudos voters. But what of titles that haven’t scored heavily so far?

They generally fall into two areas: somber pics, or films that may be too innovative.

The first category includes “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (with striking performances and design work), “Contagion,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Just before the world got into a recession-induced bad mood, kudos were dominated by pics like “No Country for Old Men,” “There Will Be Blood” and “The Reader.” One wonders how they would have fared this year.

And some 2011 films might be hampered by the fact that they’re so original: Viewers sometimes have a hard time wrapping their heads around works that don’t feed into preconceptions.

“J. Edgar,” for example, is getting deserved attention for Leonardo DiCaprio’s work, but not much for other categories. The buzz from early screenings was that it is a well-crafted, but very traditional piece of storytelling. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) However, I thought it was one of the most radical films of the year.

Spoiler alert: The first hour builds in an old-fashioned structure. But eventually we find out that some of the action depicted never happened, which in itself is pretty audacious. Even more amazing is a breakfast scene, in which Hoover’s tenderness to an ailing Clyde Tolson conveys his longstanding but unexpressed affection. In other words, the heart of the film is a subtle love scene between two 70-year-old men. And if you don’t think that’s daring, then you’re more out of touch with mainstream moviegoers than you realize.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. rightly gave some love to “Carnage.” Again, early buzz was wrong, saying it is basically a photographed play. “Carnage” is much more than that; it’s a director’s and actors’ tour de force, without being showy. Roman Polanski has pulled off a delicate balancing act that few other helmers could have done.

Similarly, buzz on the under-recognized “A Dangerous Method” said David Cronenberg was taking a detour into conventional filmmaking. In truth, he is again being edgy, dealing with mind games, emotional violence and the war between baser and nobler instincts — but without the trappings (horror, gore) that make these movies easier to sell.

Interestingly, some of this year’s best explorations of the somber-dark world came from actors. George Clooney’s excellent “The Ides of March” disproves the notion that performers become directors just for contractual or ego reasons. Clooney reminds that he is a real filmmaker. Ralph Fiennes (whose “Coriolanus” is smart and a great showcase for actors, notably Vanessa Redgrave), Jodie Foster, Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Mark Ruffalo could have taken a safe route with their directing jobs, but they didn’t.

The year had plenty of popcorn movies, but some had more on their minds than fluff. “Drive” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” were among several 2011 films that deepened their genre trappings with thought and substance.

The same is true of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2.” I admit, I was underwhelmed by the first few films, which seemed like fanciful kidpics. But the final film is children’s fare in name only, as it deals with serious observations about life, death and human nature. When WB unveiled an awards campaign for “Deathly Hallows,” the reaction began as “You’re kidding” then morphed to “That’s interesting” and finally “Good for them.”

The people behind that campaign are like the best 2011 filmmakers who are using conventional formulas only to transcend them. Now it’s time to see if kudos voters can similarly think outside the box.

Other films have a different challenge: getting seen. Will voters — who have jobs, holidays, families and a huge stack of screeners — find time to watch “Rampart” (particularly Woody Harrelson), “Tinker Tailor,” “The First Grader,” “A Better Life,” “Albert Nobbs,” “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and others? They should, to look beyond the obvious and appreciate the risks being taken.

As 2011 comes to a close, happy holidays and let’s hope 2012 is better for all of us and that everyone continues to break boundaries. Cheers!

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