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Golden Globes: Picking a Category is No Laughing Matter

Like it or not, gaming the odds is part of the equation this time of year.

Trumbo The Martian The Walk Oscar Race
Courtesy of Bleecker Street Media/20th Century Fox/Sony Pictures

Ridley Scott received some of the best reviews of his career for “The Martian.” The film performed at the box office. It’s popular with casual moviegoers (an “A” Cinemascore) and the industry (a capacity crowd at its official Academy screening). But is it a go for launch at the Oscars?

Some say yes for all the aforementioned reasons. But the film could just as easily be dismissed as a popcorn flick, relegated to craft categories. And even just two years removed from “Gravity,” there is the potential for genre bias against science-fiction. Not to mention, popular films fall out all the time; “Casino Royale” was an Academy screening hit, too, but — zero nominations.

If the film is more on-the-bubble than shoo-in, it could use some added rocket fuel. One option Fox is weighing is submitting it as a comedy/musical for Golden Globes consideration. Some might bristle at that, assuming comedies are somehow “lesser than.” Others think it fraudulent. “Trying to dominate the comedy category when you are really a drama afraid of dramatic competition is a punk move,” Judd Apatow wrote on Twitter when he caught wind of the idea. (His film “Trainwreck” with Amy Schumer is a comedy contender.)

But isn’t it valid? “The Martian” is funny. The tone is light throughout. It has a better case than other iffy submissions have had, certainly. “Punk move” or not, awards are partly a business of gaming the odds. While Matt Damon might struggle for a nod in the drama category, he could win in comedy. That kind of attention is a marketing boon.

Many other films are in the same boat, walking the tightrope between comedy and drama. “The Walk,” for instance, could go either way. But with its jaunty, spirited atmosphere, it’s currently tilting toward comedy, I’m told. “Trumbo,” meanwhile, paints a very serious Hollywood chapter with humorous overtones, but it, too, is leaning comedy.

A24 is still trying to decide the strategy for “The End of the Tour,” while Paramount’s late addition, “The Big Short” — about those who got rich off the housing crisis — could be quite formidable if deemed a comedy. But who knows where Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. members’ heads will be at the end of its allegedly sobering third act? (They do, after all, have final say.)

Meanwhile, others leaning toward drama will free up space. “The Hateful Eight,” for example, has its share of mirth like any Quentin Tarantino film, but it won’t be submitted as a comedy. And while similar vacillating happened on David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” the director will reportedly finally have another drama submission with “Joy.” Also, two outright dramas — “Love & Mercy” and “Straight Outta Compton” — won’t be playing the dubious “musical” card to slide into the comedy/musical mix, either.

That leaves the straight-ahead comedies: the previously mentioned “Trainwreck”; the Melissa McCarthy vehicle “Spy,” which was a huge critical and box office hit; Elizabeth Banks’ “Pitch Perfect 2,” also rolling in the money; and Nancy Meyers’ “The Intern” with Robert De Niro, among others. Marvel’s “Ant-Man” would also be a fun choice. As would the Lily Tomlin-led “Grandma.”

Noah Baumbach has a pair of possibilities in “While We’re Young” and “Mistress America,” but are they too highbrow? Perhaps not; the HFPA has seemingly been striving for more legitimacy as of late. And while many may have forgotten “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” which fizzled upon release, it did start its run as a Sundance prize winner.

Movies like “Burnt,” “Our Brand Is Crisis,” “Ricki and the Flash” and “I Saw the Light” will likely fare better in performance categories than best picture, so that is more or less the funny field. What will Hollywood’s comedy landscape look like when the dust settles?

UPDATE (11/12/15): Now that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has gotten a look at a number of the films that are balancing on the edge of comedy and drama, they have made various rulings.

First, it turns out the above-referenced report about “Joy” being submitted as a drama was erroneous, or at the very least, too confident too soon. Russell’s film went through many stages and, I’m told, ended up pretty far on the “drama” side, but it was nevertheless submitted as a comedy. Sounds like a bit of strategy to me. But the HFPA haven’t even seen it yet, so we’ll see what happens.

Speaking of which, the film that led the discussion here, “The Martian,” was indeed submitted as a comedy and accepted as such. “Trumbo,” however, tried for comedy as noted above, but that positioning was vetoed by the HFPA so it will be competing in the drama category.

Sony had been heavily considering a comedy submission for “The Walk,” but in the end, opted for drama. “The Big Short,” meanwhile, went with comedy.

And finally, one film mentioned, “I Saw the Light,” has of course been shuffled off to 2016.