What most people remember about the 1998-1999 awards season is how “Shakespeare in Love,” in an all-out battle led by Harvey Weinstein, bested “Saving Private Ryan” to win the Oscar for best picture.

But it also marked the beginning of a trend for Golden Globe awards winners that otherwise might be considered more lightweight fare.

Prior to the Oscar win, “Shakespeare in Love” nabbed the Globe for best musical-comedy. In the years since, four other films that won the category have been nominated for the top prize at the Oscars (“Moulin Rouge,” “Lost in Translation,” “Sideways” and “The Kids Are All Right”), while two, including last year’s “The Artist” and 2002’s “Chicago,” went on to take the best picture Oscar.

Whether a film is considered for the Globes’ musical-comedy category or its prize for drama is initially determined when it’s submitted by a studio or production company, often in lockstep with how it’s marketed.

Yet awards season veterans say it’s sometimes a matter of expediency as to which category a film is entered in and is often dependent on the predicted kudo path of other films in a slate.

“We have a form, and the studios submit their films in one category or the other,” says Marlene von Arx, a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s eligibility committee. “Occasionally, the committee will unanimously move something into the drama category, like we did for ‘Nowhere Boy’ and ‘Country Strong.’ It’s not a science, and we only change things when it’s really obvious.”

HFPA president Aida Takla-O’Reilly says just because a pic involves the music business or is about a musical personage — “Nowhere Boy” was about John Lennon’s early years and “Country Strong” was set in the world of country music — does not automatically place it in the musical category.

And while placement in one category or the other may be strategic, what’s truly important is getting the nod from HFPA members.

“We have to get a nomination or our Oscars hopes are dashed,” says one producer who requested anonymity. “A Globes nomination helps propel you forward, brings attention and legitimizes you.”

“Getting recognition from the HFPA is a huge win for any film because it means that more people will end up seeing it,” agrees Reid Carolin, producer and screenwriter of “Magic Mike,” a contender in the comedy class.

Unless a film is definitively a musical, such as “Les Miserables,” many pics don’t fit neatly into one category or another.

Among this season’s likely candidates that straddle the line between comedy and drama are “The Silver Linings Playbook,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Hope Springs,” “Seven Psychopaths,” “Bernie,” “To Rome with Love” and “This is 40.”

“There are so many strong films that have been nominated in the Globes comedy category in the past several years,” says Management 360’s Guymon Casady, a producer on “Hope Springs.” “Last year, ‘The Artist’ was in the Globes comedy category and went on to win the Oscar. And nobody judged that film as having any less weight because it was a comedy.”

“Comedy is one of the hardest things in the world to pull off,” says Judd Payne, a producer on helmer Richard Linklater’s black comedy “Bernie,” based on a true story about a small-town Texas murder case. “Comedy is fighting more of an uphill battle when it comes to being recognized as the best in any category.”

Yet the conundrum still lies in defining what is and what isn’t a comedy.

In the past, there have been some dubious decisions, with pics including “My Week With Marilyn” and “Charlie Wilson’s War” competing in the comedy category for the Globes, which may affect the perception of them when it comes time for the Oscars.

“If it influences audiences into calling a film a ‘comedy,’ then that can hurt. Oscar has no sense of humor. Funny is money but it’s not an Academy Award,” says Bill McCuddy, film critic for “Talking Pictures on Demand.”

“Films like ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ have enough quality within to be campaigned in a musical-comedy category without worrying about a misconception or negative discernment from AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences),” says Clayton Davis, editor of AwardsCircuit.com.

Admittedly, some movies are borderline cases.

“There are dramas that have laughs and comedies that have serious moments,” says Stephen Farber, president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.

“There’s prejudice against comedies in general, so if a film is a comedy it has an obstacle that it’s not going to be taken as seriously as a heavier drama.” n

What most people remember about the 1998-1999 awards season is how “Shakespeare in Love,” in an all-out battle led by Harvey Weinstein, bested “Saving Private Ryan” to win the Oscar for best picture.

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