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Spreading the wealth

Top awards are split among 'Chicago,' 'The Hours' and other tough-to-make films. Does this presage a close Oscar race?

January 20, 2003|Bob Baker and Susan King | Times Staff Writers

"Chicago," the Prohibition-era musical about two singing-and-dancing murderesses, and "The Hours," the poignant literary drama revolving around three women, won the major best picture awards Sunday night at the 60th annual Golden Globes.

In a harbinger of what is likely to be a closely fought Oscar race, the Globes split its trophies among a variety of critically praised films ranging from late-life crises to historical drama to a sendup of Hollywood screenwriting.

"Chicago" was the only film to capture more than two awards. It was named best musical or comedy, and two of its stars, Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere, won best actress and actor. "The Hours" received two awards: best dramatic picture of 2002 and best actress for Nicole Kidman. Also receiving a pair of Globes were the quirky comedy "Adaptation," the historical epic "Gangs of New York" and the dark comedic-drama "About Schmidt."

As different as they were, all the major winners had something in common -- they tackled complex subjects with questionable commercial appeal that were arduous to translate to the screen.

Kidman, best actress in a musical or comedy last year for "Moulin Rouge," alluded to that as she accepted her award for her performance in "The Hours" as the mentally troubled novelist Virginia Woolf. She praised the "enormous amount of really good performances by women in television and cinema....Please keep giving us rich, complicated characters to play."

Martin Scorsese, who won his first Golden Globe on Sunday for directing his story of street violence between 19th century Americans and Irish immigrants in "Gangs of New York," said the film had preyed on his soul since he was 7 years old and "first heard the stories of this time."

Jack Nicholson won best dramatic actor for his performance in "About Schmidt," as a recently retired, bitter widower trying to stop his daughter from marrying. "I don't know whether to be happy or ashamed because I thought we made a comedy," Nicholson wisecracked from the podium, referring to the lighter aspects of the film. Nicholson last won a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy or musical five years ago for "As Good as It Gets."

"About Schmidt" also received the screenwriting award for Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor's adaptation of Louis Begley's novel.

From a studio perspective, Miramax Films was the winner Sunday. Its films -- "Chicago," "The Hours" (produced with Paramount), "Gangs of New York" and "Frida" -- won eight of the 13 awards.

The three-hour ceremony, held at the Beverly Hilton, was sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and telecast by NBC. Although the foreign press group's membership consists of 90 journalists -- less than 2% of the number of entertainment-industry figures who cast Oscar ballots -- and the organization is taken less than seriously by many in Hollywood, the Golden Globes have become a powerful marketing tool in studios' Oscar campaigns as well as an often reliable barometer: The winners of the Golden Globe for best drama or comedy/musical have won the Oscar for best picture for the past seven years. This year's Oscars will be awarded on March 23.

On numerous occasions, the Globes have ventured far from the taste of Oscar voters. In 1955, for example, the Globes honored "East of Eden," with James Dean playing his first leading role, as best drama, while the Oscar for best picture went to the low-budget, black-and-white "Marty." In 1970, the Globes honored the sentimental box office hit "Love Story" and the acerbic antiwar comedy "MASH" while the Oscar went to the more traditional biopic "Patton." In 1991, the Globes went to "Bugsy" and "Beauty and the Beast" while the Oscar went to "The Silence of the Lambs."

Scorsese has been praised for fighting to have "Gangs of New York" made during the past three decades. But the film still faces an uphill battle: Box office so far has been disappointing and the director, , who has never won an Oscar, has been shut out this year in awards presented by a variety of film critics associations.

"Chicago's" Zellweger, who plays the aspiring-actress-turned-murderess Roxie Hart, received her second best actress Golden Globe in this category; she won two years ago for "Nurse Betty." Gere, who plays flamboyantly cynical lawyer Billy Flynn, told the audience, "I didn't even want to do this movie." Backstage, he expanded: "It wasn't an easy fit for me. I literally didn't see how you could make this a film."

The award bolstered Gere's chance of being considered in the Oscar best actor category, rather than as a supporting actor.

"Adaptation," which told the story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's tortured efforts to turn novelist Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief'" into a screenplay, took the supporting actor and supporting actress categories.

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