Left to right, Zoe Saldana's Neytiri in "Avatar," George… (20th Century Fox / Paramount…)
The Academy Awards won't be handed out for more than two months and there will be nine other movies competing for the best picture Oscar, but it's increasingly clear that there's now a film to beat -- the downsizing drama "Up in the Air."
Voters for the 67th annual Golden Globe awards gave writer-director Jason Reitman's movie, about an employment executioner who discovers he might be becoming as personally and professionally expendable as the people he fires, a leading six nominations. The picks were all in top categories: best dramatic movie, best director, screenplay (for Reitman and Sheldon Turner), best dramatic actor (George Clooney) and best supporting actress (for costars Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick).
"Why is the response so strong to the film?" Reitman said after the selections were announced Tuesday morning. "This is a movie that represents 2009, not only in its politics but also in what the main character is going through." The film also was recently named the best film by the National Board of Review.
While Tuesday's nominations marked an ascension for "Up in the Air," they also solidified the awards season status of two movies coming out this week -- "Nine" and "Avatar" -- and indicated the resurgence of two films released earlier this summer -- "Inglourious Basterds" and "The Hurt Locker."
The 83 voting foreign journalists who make up the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. nominated director Rob Marshall's musical "Nine" five times and writer-director James Cameron's "Avatar" four times. Writer-director Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" also collected four nominations, and Kathryn Bigelow's tense war drama "The Hurt Locker" earned three.
All of the films were selected for best picture. Because the Golden Globes present prominent prizes in two categories -- drama and musical or comedy -- there were 10 nominations for their top trophies, the same number of films that will be eligible for March's Academy Awards, which since 1945 have featured only five best picture nominees.
In addition to "Up in the Air," the top drama picks were "Avatar," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds" and "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire." The comedy or musical picks were "Nine," "(500) Days of Summer," "The Hangover," "It's Complicated" and "Julie & Julia."
As is often the case with the Golden Globes, some of Tuesday's nominations were unexpected, loopy or nakedly star-driven -- proof again of why the Golden Globes have nearly as many detractors as supporters.
"Sherlock Holmes," with far fewer laughs than "Up in the Air," was considered by the HFPA a comedy (the category in which the film and star Robert Downey Jr. were nominated). Julia Roberts, who starred in the commercial dud "Duplicity," was nominated for best comic actress for that performance (in what may have been a drama). The attention was concentrated in some races: Matt Damon ("The Informant!," "Invictus"), Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side," "The Proposal") and Meryl Streep ("Julie & Julia," "It's Complicated") were all nominated twice in acting categories.
Several acclaimed movies and performances considered awards contenders were ignored. Jeremy Renner, the charismatic star of the critical smash "The Hurt Locker," was overlooked. Filmmaker Jane Campion's acclaimed "Bright Star" was snubbed entirely, as was John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road."
Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" drew just one nomination, Stanley Tucci for supporting actor. Lee Daniels wasn't nominated for directing the film, but "Precious" was shortlisted for top drama, lead dramatic actress (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) and supporting actress (Mo'Nique).
Because the HFPA is historically more egalitarian than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (although both organizations gave "Slumdog Millionaire" their best picture statue in last year's competition), the Golden Globe attention could prove particularly helpful to several pricey movies poised to be released, including the holiday crowd-pleaser "Avatar" and the musical adaptation "Nine."
In a testament to the awards' importance, "Titanic" director Cameron said he finished "Avatar" just hours before its first screening, which was held earlier this month for Golden Globe voters. In addition to best drama and director (Cameron will face Bigelow, Reitman, Tarantino and Clint Eastwood for "Invictus"), "Avatar," the most expensive movie in Hollywood history, was nominated for original song and score.
"You've got a marketing issue with this film," Cameron said, noting that his futuristic thriller could be marginalized by being labeled a sci-fiction fantasy that appealed only to the fan-boy niche. "But the nominations will help with that -- it's not easily relegated to a typical genre picture [status]," Cameron said. "I'm seeing women coming into the theater saying, 'This is not typically my kind of film, I don't like science fiction, but I cried three times.' "