Let’s be honest — the Golden Globes are a splashy TV show featuring A-list celebrities working the red carpet, hitting the champagne and happily pretending that praise from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is something they’ve dreamed of their entire lives. For the evening’s film-related awards, however, the Globes mean something else entirely.
The annual whoop-de-doo is the last big bellwether before Oscar voters submit their nominees, which are due on Jan. 23. So rather than try to guess who the winners and losers at this year’s Globes will be, let’s take a look at who stands to benefit the most from a win, Oscar-wise, versus those who for whom a victory at the Beverly Hilton Sunday will be merely an afterthought.
Best supporting actress
Would most help: Penélope Cruz, “Nine.” The winner in this category last year for her role in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” was nominated for two Oscars in the last 10 years, so the Academy definitely likes her. The fact that “Nine” has laid a giant egg with both critics and audiences isn’t helping the film’s chances at the Oscars, but a win for Cruz could convince some voters to acknowledge her dazzling work in a movie that they otherwise didn’t care for much.
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Doesn’t need it: Mo’Nique, “Precious.” The comedian’s ferocious performance as an abusive mother is one of the juggernauts of this awards season, having already racked up some 14 honors, including a Special Jury Prize at Sundance and a hat trick of accolades from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics. Whatever happens at the Globes, she’s all but guaranteed to be in the running on Oscar night.
Best supporting actor
Would most help: Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger.” His turn in the film about soldiers informing spouses and children about wartime deaths racked up rave reviews. But “The Messenger” hasn’t entered the public consciousness as much as even “The Hurt Locker,” which generated tons of press coverage without becoming more than a medium-sized indie hit. If Harrelson takes the prize, more Oscar voters will move their “Messenger” screener to the top of the pile.
Doesn’t need it: Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds.” Awards-wise, this year he’s the dude Mo’Nique. Just substitute “Cannes Best Actor” for “Sundance Special Jury Prize.”
Best actress, comedy or musical
Would most help: Marion Cotillard, “Nine.” Even people who hated the Rob Marshall musical had to acknowledge that Cotillard was one of its best elements. She’s a recent Oscar-winner for “La Vie en Rose,” and snagging a Globe would probably make her much more viable in the eyes of the Academy.
Doesn’t need it: Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia.” She’s had that Oscar nomination pretty much in place since the film opened last summer.
Best actress, drama
Would most help: Emily Blunt, “The Young Victoria.” Blunt is a popular young actress — although granted, her popularity has sprung from roles very different from this one — but reactions to both her and the film have been mixed. A Golden Globe win might make more Academy voters, often inclined to swoon over period historical romance, look upon her with favor.
Doesn’t need it: Carey Mulligan, “An Education,” and Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious.” Both of these talented newcomers have had critics polishing up new superlatives since Sundance 2009. Their path to Oscar night will remain wide open whether or not either wins a Globe.
Best actor, comedy or musical
Would most help: Well, all of them; actors in comedies generally have a tough time with the academy, and none of the five nominees are necessarily done deals where Oscar is concerned. Michael Stuhlbarg (“A Serious Man”) probably has the best shot at a nomination, but his lack of name recognition and the film’s controversy — did the Jewish Coen Brothers make an anti-Semitic film? — might stand in his way. If Matt Damon gets an Oscar nod, it will more likely be for “Invictus” than for his comic turn in “The Informant!” and while Robert Downey, Jr. and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have their admirers, their work in “Sherlock Holmes” and “(500) Days of Summer,” respectively, might not be Oscar bait-y enough. The longest shot of all would be two-time Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis, whose singing-dancing-smoking turn in “Nine” isn’t everyone’s cup of grappa.
Best actor, drama
Would most help: Tobey Maguire, “Brothers.” Despite some meaty performances, this remake of the Danish film just hasn’t resonated much with audiences or with most awards groups. Any attention would give Maguire — who, as of this week, will no longer be playing Spider-Man in future sequels — a leg up.
Doesn’t need it: George Clooney, “Up in the Air.” He’s by no means a guaranteed winner on Oscar night, but the odds of him becoming a nominee are overwhelmingly in his favor.
Best movie, comedy or musical
Would most help: Again, all of them, but especially “It’s Complicated.” If the Academy’s reinstituted 10-best-picture-nominees policy opens the door to a genre traditionally ignored by the group, it’s going to be for science fiction and not comedy — this year, anyway, with well-crafted audience-pleasers like “District 9,” “Star Trek” and “Avatar” in the mix. Of the five Globe nominees in this category, “Complicated” arguably has the strongest crossover appeal with the older segment of Academy voters. (Sorry, “The Hangover,” you’ll have to be satisfied with record-breaking box office and DVD sales figures.)
Best movie, drama
Would most help: “Inglourious Basterds.” Even with 10 slots to fill this year, there’s no guaranteeing that Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist WWII epic will resonate enough with Academy voters to make it into the top category. A Globes win might add a touch of extra legitimacy to a movie some voters might be tempted to write off as a grindhouse gut-bucket.
Doesn’t need it: “Up in the Air.” It’s zeitgeist-y, it’s emotionally involving and it’s supremely accessible. Whether they watch it in a screening room, at home or in an airplane, Oscar voters will upgrade it to first class.
Alonso Duralde is a writer in Los Angeles.