The Strange Case of Benjamin Button, with Brad Pitt aging backward, and Frost/Nixon, a drama of dueling egos centering on a British talk-show host and a disgraced former U.S. president, became automatic Oscar front-runners yesterday, after each garnered five Golden Globe nominations.
Other best-drama nominations went to The Reader, a rumination on Holocaust guilt starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes; Revolutionary Road, with Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as a bickering 1950s-era couple with contrary visions of their future; and Slumdog Millionaire, the story of an Indian game-show contestant whose success challenges the country's caste system.
Curiously, of those five films, only one has been chosen as the best picture of the year by any of the critics' groups whose annual awards serve as bellwethers of the Oscar race. Slumdog Millionaire, a film that was destined to go straight to DVD until a last-minute decision was made to give it a limited theatrical run, has been lauded by both the National Board of Review and the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. Pixar's animated WALL-E was judged best film by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, while Milk, director Gus Van Sant's biopic of gay activist Harvey Milk, won the award from the New York Film Critics Circle.
The five films nominated for best musical or comedy were the ABBA-saturated musical Mamma Mia !, Joel and Ethan Coen's Burn After Reading, Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, the black comedy In Bruges and Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Dramatic actress nominations went to Winslet for Revolutionary Road (she also got a supporting actress nod for The Reader), Anne Hathaway as a recovering addict out to ruin her sister's wedding in Rachel Getting Married, Angelina Jolie as a distraught mother in The Changeling, Kristin Scott Thomas as a convicted murderer just out of prison in I've Loved You So Long; and Meryl Streep as a doctrinaire nun in Doubt.
Streep, who would probably get an actress nod for reminding theater patrons not to smoke, also earned a musical or comedy actress nod as a singing mother of the bride in Mamma Mia! Joining her were Frances McDormand as a ditzy gym worker in Burn After Reading, Emma Thompson in Last Chance Harvey, Rebecca Hall as an unexpectedly frisky academic in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Sally Hawkins - the favorite of both the New York and Los Angeles critics - as an incorrigible optimist in Happy-Go-Lucky.
Nominations for best actor in a drama went to Pitt and DiCaprio, as well as Sean Penn as the title character in Milk, Frank Langella as the 37th president of the United States in Frost/Nixon and Mickey Rourke as The Wrestler. Penn's take on Milk, who was assassinated in 1978, just 10 months after being elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, has garnered universal praise and won awards from both the New York and Los Angeles critics.
The year's No. 1 film at the box office, The Dark Knight, received only a single nomination, for the late Heath Ledger as best supporting actor.
Yet again, labor strife is threatening to make a shambles of the coming awards season, with the Screen Actors Guild set to announce the results of a strike authorization vote on Jan. 23. Last year, a writers' strike led the Hollywood Foreign Press to cancel the Golden Globes ceremony and came within two weeks of causing a boycott of the Oscar ceremony. The SAG strike vote would come after the Globes ceremony Jan. 11, but in plenty of time to disrupt the Oscars, scheduled for Feb. 22.
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