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


AP Images

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.

Best Actor: The Best Actor race this season has more or less belonged to George Clooney for his performance in The Descendants, with The Artist's Jean Dujardin on his coattails as the underdog. After their dual Globe wins (Clooney in Drama, Dujardin in Comedy) they remain the two to beat. Both gave memorable speeches, with Clooney gracious as ever and Dujardin utterly winning in his Hollywood coming out. But expect the tie to go to Clooney; on Tinseltown's biggest night, it will be hard to resist rewarding its biggest A-lister.

The acting nominees are chosen in a similar way to those for Best Picture, with voters ranking the actors and number one votes being the most important. So performers with passionate supporters—Gary Oldman from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, for example—could conceivably be nominated for an Oscar over J. Edgar's Leonardo DiCaprio—who is receiving respectful, but not rapturous accolades—even though Oldman was snubbed by the Globes. Shame's Michael Fassbender, thanks to the ranking system, should be considered a shoo-in nominee, along with Moneyball's Brad Pitt.

Best Actress: It's already been said that a good Golden Globes acceptance speech is invaluable (Sandra Bullock's Blind Side Oscar was a reward for her performance doling out memorable thank yous at precursor award shows as much as it was for playing Leigh Anne Tuohy). So that makes this award Meryl Streep's to lose for The Iron Lady. Her breathless, effusive, witty, and touching speech was classic speech that will endear her to Oscar voters. Best Actress this year is ostensibly a three-way race between Streep, The Help's Viola Davis, and My Week With Marilyn's Michelle Williams. Thanks to a particularly classy speech—adorable anecdotes about an adorable daughter are golden—for her Best Actress in a Comedy win, Williams actually jumps ahead of Davis in this race.

Tilda Swinton seems primed to join them for We Need to Talk About Kevin as a nominee, with those who saw the indie raving about her performance, and Albert Nobbs' Glenn Close on shaky ground as a fifth nominee. Poised to spoil: Melancholia's Kirsten Dunst or even Bridesmaids's Kristen Wiig.

Supporting Races: The Supporting Actor and Actress categories at the Globes are not divided into Comedy and Drama like the other major races, making it easier to pinpoint a frontrunner after Sunday night. And any betting awards guru would be wise to place money on repeat victories for Beginners' Christopher Plummer and The Help's Octavia Spencer at the Oscars. In an ensemble brimming with scene-stealers (not the least of who is another likely Oscar nominee, Jessica Chastain), Spencer makes out with the most loot—which, in this case, is audience laughter and tears. Both she and Plummer delivered heartfelt, endearing speeches and—this is important—appeared genuinely happy to be on stage receiving their awards. (Thus not repeating Eddie Murphy's mistake of looking miserable during his speech—one that George Clooney, in his attempt to appear overly humble, risks making.)

The rest of the Best Supporting Actor category is a bit of a mixed bag this year, with Drive's Albert Brooks, Moneyball's Jonah Hill, and My Week With Marilyn's Kenneth Branagh all probable nominees deep in Plummer's shadow. Warrior's Nick Nolte, who was snubbed by the Globes, has been rewarded by enough critics' groups to predict a nod, though the fervent fans of Brad Pitt in Tree of Life or Patton Oswalt in Young Adult could cause tone of those actors to fill it instead. Armie Hammer's surprise Screen Actors Guild nomination for J. Edgar also hints that he may have enough support from voting actors to break into the race.

The Best Supporting Actress, however, is less open, with the five Oscar nominees likely to come from a group of six performers: Spencer, Chastain, The Artist's Berenice Bejo, Albert Nobbs's Janet McTeer, The Descendants's Shailene Woodley, and Bridesmaids's Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy was snubbed by the Globes, but has earned a SAG nod and a slew of critics' awards. More than that, she's 2011's unlikely "It" girl, creating a tidal wave of good will she should be able to ride to a nomination (it's telling that during Spencer's acceptance speech, Globes producers kept cutting to McCarthy's teary reaction, not any of the actual nominees). The young Woodley or McTeer, due to the low profile her film has, are the most at risk of missing out on Oscar nods.