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Splintered selections

Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. reflects the malaise and confusion of this awards season.

December 14, 2007|Rachel Abramowitz | Times Staff Writer

So the 82-voting members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. have punted.

They're either unable or unwilling to designate any sort of Oscar front-runner and so have nominated as many as 12 films for either best film, drama or comedy, for the 65th Annual Golden Globe Awards. Sprinkling their gold dust everywhere, the group handed out nominations for dramas, seven in all, for films such as "Atonement," the WWII tale of love thwarted by a child's overactive imagination, to Ridley Scott's ode to drug lords "American Gangster," to the Coen brothers' violent modern-day western "No Country for Old Men." And there were the five nominees in the musical or comedy category including "Sweeney Todd," based on the Sondheim musical about a barbarous barber; "Hairspray," based on the film and the Broadway play; the unplanned pregnancy comedy, "Juno" -- and on and on . . . .

Some of these films, such as "Across the Universe" and "Charlie Wilson's War," haven't set the critics afire, but what does that matter, when Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks can be nominated and invited to the party?

At least the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is providing an accurate reflection of the malaise and confusion of this Oscar season, in which there's no "Titanic"-like film destined to scoop up awards, and enough anxiety around to spark a run on Xanax. Given the fact that the Writers Guild of America has not yet revealed whether it plans to picket the awards derby or specifically the Golden Globes, no one even knows for sure whether the stars will show up to be feted, swagged, and fussed over.

It's been many years since the award season has seemed so off-point. After 9/11, the media all worried that corporate-manufactured fun would be in bad taste, that as the need for irony had putatively ended, so went the demand for red carpets and hoopla. In fact, the opposite was true -- better to have a party in the face of terror. Six years later, the opposite might prove true, as the industry is gripped by an increasingly vituperative battle between the artists and the suits about how the pie is going to be divided when all content begins streaming over the Internet.

Typically a wide-open Oscar field means one thing -- studios will spend and spend and spend to try to nab one of those all-important gold statuettes. If there's no consensus on merit, then the old Hollywood adage kicks in: Let the money do the talking.

Already, before a single film had won even a single critics' award, the studios had begun plying tastemakers with an unusually heady array of invitations, intimate get-togethers with every star willing to hawk their wares. Have a drink at Il Cielo with George Clooney, the urbane star of "Michael Clayton." Or tea with Ang Lee, or crumpets with the entire "Atonement" gang, from the beautiful Keira Knightley to the stalwart Vanessa Redgrave.

Rubbing noses with the famous is swell, and it's nice that every marketing person who ever studied Oscar-campaigning under the tutelage of grandmaster Harvey Weinstein now has a paid strategizing gig at one of the studios, but this year, of all years, the studio-financed hoopla seems out of sync with the tenor of the industry.

So here's a modest proposal.

Let's take the $100 million or so that the studios collectively shell out on the awards race and use it to solve the writers strike.

No doubt if you asked the audience members which would they rather see -- a new season of "24," "Desperate Housewives" and the sequel to "The Da Vinci Code," "Angels and Demons," or stars prattling on about their Marchese outfits or actually discussing the strike with Ryan Seacrest -- the majority would opt for scripted programming.

Partying as the town burns will certainly be strange, and make no mistake about it, the Golden Globes has always been more about the party. No one puts "Golden Globe winner" on his or her tombstone, but good times have often been had during the soiree at the Beverly Hilton, as the stakes are low and the champagne flows freely. The festivities, scheduled to air on NBC on Jan. 13, are a boon to the network, so it seems doubtful that the show will somehow miraculously be granted a waiver from the WGA, allowing it to hire real writers to write the banter and stars to attend without crossing a picket line.

It's hard to imagine this year's Golden Globes retaining their customary festiveness. Will writer-hyphenates like Tina Fey or the Coen brothers enjoy clinking glasses with their corporate overlords like Jeffrey Zucker and Robert Iger when they're fighting for their future? Already the town's social fabric is beginning to fray, as studio bosses slink down in their limos and avoid eye contact with the picketing A-list writers they used to entertain at their homes.

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