Spreading its praise between accessible, star-driven movies and a handful of challenging films, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. bestowed a leading seven Golden Globe nominations on Steven Spielberg's biography "Lincoln" while handing five nods apiece to Ben Affleck's international thriller, "Argo," and Quentin Tarantino's slavery revenge tale, "Django Unchained."
Even though HFPA voters nominated the demanding Osama bin Laden manhunt film "Zero Dark Thirty" in four categories on Thursday, including drama, they ignored the critically acclaimed Louisiana bayou drama "Beasts of the Southern Wild." "The Master," a complex story about a charismatic spiritualist and an alcoholic drifter, received nominations in three acting categories but didn't make the cut for drama, director or screenplay.
The Golden Globes are chosen by fewer than 90 self-described L.A.-based entertainment journalists who often favor films with an international flair and big-name stars. Though their tastes do not align perfectly with Oscar voters', the HFPA can give a boost to late-charging awards contenders.
A day after "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was nominated by the Screen Actors Guild for its prestigious ensemble prize, the light movie about British pensioners received Golden Globe nominations for best film and lead actress for Judi Dench in the comedy/musical division. (The Globes, unlike the Oscars, split films and the top acting categories into dramas and comedies/musicals.)
Globes voters always make a few head-scratching picks that seem orchestrated to attract celebrity wattage to their mid-January awards broadcast — think of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie's nominations for the 2010 critical dud "The Tourist."
This year, perhaps the biggest surprises were a supporting actress pick for Nicole Kidman (for her role as a hot-to-trot Southern belle in the little-seen "The Paperboy") and a leading actress nod for Meryl Streep (for her turn as an unhappy wife in the modestly received "Hope Springs"). When Streep's name was announced — marking her 27th Golden Globe nomination — someone in the audience at the Beverly Hilton remarked, "Are you kidding?" in a stage whisper that carried over the crowd.
Yet clearly it was "Lincoln's" morning. The film about the 16th U.S. president was nominated for dramatic film, dramatic actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), supporting actress (Sally Field), supporting actor (Tommy Lee Jones), director (Spielberg), screenplay (Tony Kushner) and score (John Williams). It was the most nominations a Spielberg film has received from the HFPA.
"Every one of the nominations landed equally with a great deal of gratitude from all of us," Spielberg said. He said that even though his movie is unmistakably American, Abraham Lincoln's life nevertheless is connecting to an international audience looking for leadership role models, including, it's safe to say, the HFPA's correspondents. "They understand that he did what he had to do," the director said.
The same could be said of Tony Mendez, the CIA operative played by Affleck at the center of "Argo," which traces Mendez's rescue of six Americans hiding during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. The film has been in theaters longer than most award contenders — "Argo" opened Oct. 12 — but has not faded in the minds of awards voters and like "Lincoln" is a box-office hit with more than $100 million in domestic ticket sales. In addition to picking up five Golden Globe picks (including drama and director for Affleck), "Argo" received two SAG nominations, including ensemble.
"There are plenty of mornings when I've not been nominated, so it makes me pretty happy," Affleck said. "When you're dealing with Iran and the United States you're walking a minefield — militarily, politically and culturally."
Though heavily attended by Hollywood stars, the Golden Globes have not been in recent years a reliable predictor of the winners of the Academy Awards.
A year ago, the HFPA presented its top film awards to "The Descendants" (drama) and "The Artist" (musical or comedy), and "The Artist" won the best picture Oscar. But in trophies presented for 2010 movies, the Globes selected "The Social Network" as best drama and "The Kids Are All Right" as best musical or comedy, but "The King's Speech" won the top Oscar.
Still, there is a fair amount of overlap when it comes to nominations in major categories. In each of the last four years, for instance, the Globes and Oscars agreed on four of five director nominees.
In addition to "Argo" and "Lincoln," the nominees for dramatic movie were "Django Unchained," "Life of Pi" and "Zero Dark Thirty." The Golden Globe finalists for musical or comedy movie were "Marigold Hotel," "Moonrise Kingdom," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Les Misérables" and "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen."
The latter film, a lightly regarded romantic comedy that premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and opened in theaters in March, collected two other Golden Globe nominations, for lead actress Emily Blunt and lead actor Ewan McGregor.
"Did it premiere here this year? Maybe two years ago?" director Lasse Hallstrom joked. "It's a lovely surprise. A week ago I thought maybe it had a theoretical chance. Before that I didn't really think it had any chance." Hallstrom did not attend a pre-Thanksgiving screening for the HFPA but said he thought the movie's dramatic comedy tone and international cast played well to the group.
Joining Day-Lewis in the dramatic actor race are Joaquin Phoenix from "The Master," Richard Gere from "Arbitrage," John Hawkes from "The Sessions" and Denzel Washington for "Flight." The shortlisted dramatic actresses were Jessica Chastain for "Zero Dark Thirty," Marion Cotillard for "Rust and Bone," Helen Mirren for "Hitchcock," Naomi Watts for "The Impossible" and Rachel Weisz for "The Deep Blue Sea."
For supporting actress, the nominees are Kidman, Field, Amy Adams in "The Master," Anne Hathaway for "Les Misérables" and Helen Hunt for "The Sessions." Opposite them for supporting actor are Jones, Philip Seymour Hoffman for "The Master," Alan Arkin from "Argo" and Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz, both for "Django Unchained."
Nominated for directing besides Tarantino, Affleck and Spielberg are Kathryn Bigelow for "Zero Dark Thirty" and Ang Lee for "Life of Pi." The Globes will be handed out Jan. 13 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in a ceremony hosted by television comedians Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.
Times staff reporter Laura Nelson contributed to this report.