What Do the Golden Globes Say About the Oscar Race?

How the results of Sunday night's ceremony affect the biggest awards show of the year

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After Sunday's Golden Globes, Hollywood can breathe a collective sigh of relief (Ricky Gervais wasn't that mean!) and set its sights on the real big show: the Oscars. Now that George Clooney, The Artist, and Meryl Streep are all 2011 Globe winners, the conversation naturally segues to the likelihood that they'll repeat in February.

There are plenty of critics who will quickly silence that talk with the argument that the Globes have no bearing on the Academy Awards. The body of voters has literally no overlap, they'll say, gladly serving up the fact that the neither of the eventual Best Picture Oscar-winners from the past two years (The King's Speech and The Hurt Locker) was victorious in the same category at the Golden Globes. It's a flawed dismissal. Simply look at the acting categories: Over the past five awards seasons, every Best Actor and Best Actress winner took home both Golden Globe and Academy Award trophies. Sure, the Globes has two categories—Comedy and Drama—making the odds of the overlap more likely. But especially in an awards season like the current one, when "frontrunners," "sure things," and "dark horses" have changed repeatedly, the Globes narrow the field considerably.

And for many stars, the Golden Globes serve as a sort of Oscars audition. It's an opportunity to endear one's self to Academy voters with a charming or emotional speech—after all, the public is more likely to remember a standout speech (Sally Field's "You like me;" Cuba Gooding, Jr.'s aerobic thank yous) than a staid past-winner (Who remembers that Chris Cooper won an Oscar in 2003, or that Rachel Weisz won in 2005?). In fact, a poor showing at the Globes has been rumored to doom several presumed Oscar victors—among the numerous theories given for Eddie Murphy's shocking Best Supporting Actor loss for Dreamgirls in 2007 is the stuffy, pompous, and all-in-all boring acceptance speech he gave at the Golden Globes.

So where do the races stand after Sunday night? Here's a look at the major categories:

Best Picture: It's little surprise that Alexander Payne's heartbreaking The Descendants and Michel Hazanavicius's charming The Artist took home Best Drama and Best Comedy, respectively. The race between the two films is similar to the one between The Social Network and The King's Speech last year, when both movies could've conceivably won the Oscar, and both would've been deserving. (Though a delightful acceptance speech from The Artist featuring dog tricks and a heartwarming story about the producer's father certainly trumps the bland listing of names The Descendants delivered.)

The more interesting discussion is about which other films will join them as nominees. In the latest of the Academy's ever-confusing rule changes about how nominees are chosen, this year there will be anywhere between five and 10 contenders. In order to make the shortlist, a film must be ranked first by at least five percent of voters on the nomination ballots. Who does that help? Hugo, The Help, and Midnight in Paris. It's presumed that Steven Spielberg's epic War Horse and the unexpectedly fascinating and exciting Moneyball will also earn nominations—but those two films are actually most at risk because of these rules. Near-universally, critics and awards groups have liked these fine movies. But there's no indication that they're anyone's favorite—a necessary condition to being nominated. Either film could have used a high-profile Globe win Sunday (a Brad Pitt acceptance speech would have been invaluable Oscar campaigning for Moneyball's Best Picture chances.)

On the other hand, a polarizing film like Terrence Malick's Tree of Life—which a love-it-or-loathe-it awards season so far has left alternately winning Best Picture prizes and being snubbed completely by organizations (like the Globes)—still stands a solid shot at being ranked first by at least five percent of Oscar nominators. Likewise for Bridesmaids, a seemingly unlikely Best Picture nominee that may boast more good will towards it than any other horse in the race. A Best Comedy win at the Globes would have certainly helped its chances, but the film's Producers Guild, Writers Guild, and Best Ensemble Screen Actors Guild nominations hint that it stands a real shot at the big Oscar nod, considering the voting memberships between the Academy and those guilds have a massive overlap.

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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