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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 3:23 p.m., Thursday, December 14, 2006

Golden Globe nominees yield big surprises

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Here's how wildly unexpected and utterly inspired some of the Golden Globe nominations were: Sacha Baron Cohen is up for best actor in a comedy for "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."

And he'll probably win.

The film itself, in which Baron Cohen plays a bumbling, bigoted Kazakh TV reporter who traipses across the country in search of American culture (and Pamela Anderson), also earned a nomination today for best motion picture in the comedy or musical category, where it's up against much more traditional picks like the splashy, crowd-pleasing "Dreamgirls."

As Borat himself might say, it is good — and it's good for a laugh. But if you stop and think about it, the nominations make total sense. Not only has "Borat" been a $120 million box-office hit which has earned nearly unanimous critical praise and nonstop buzz, but it's also about a foreign journalist who travels to Los Angeles.

Sort of like the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who bestow the Golden Globes each year and who probably got a good chuckle out of watching one of their own (albeit a broad fabrication) satirically skewering the United States.

A much more serious international affair, "Babel," received the most nominations with seven, including best picture-drama, best director (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) and three for supporting work (from Brad Pitt, Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza). With its interconnected story lines that stretch across continents and languages, it's the sort of meaty fare that seems tailor-made for awards season.

The violent Boston mob drama "The Departed," had the second-highest nomination count with six, including best picture, best director (perennial nominee Martin Scorsese) and best actor (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Meanwhile, the dazzling "Dreamgirls," based on the 1981 Broadway musical about a Supremes-style singing trio, looks like the front-runner in the comedy-musical category. Besides best picture, its five Globe nominations include best actress (Beyonce Knowles) and best supporting actress for the powerhouse Jennifer Hudson.

The strong showing for all of those movies likely augurs well for their Academy Awards prospects, too (though "Dreamgirls" already had emerged as the de facto Oscar favorite in this wide-open season).

In recent years, the Golden Globes have morphed from an unpredictable party night (the stars are allowed to drink during the ceremony, and often do) to a nearly surefire predictor of future Oscar success. Last year, the four acting winners at the Academy Awards — Philip Seymour Hoffman, Reese Witherspoon, George Clooney and Rachel Weisz — previously had won their categories at the Globes.

Weinstein Co. co-founder Harvey Weinstein, who pioneered an aggressive awards-campaigning style at his former outfit Miramax that the rest of Hollywood has emulated, said the Globes call attention to smaller films that Oscar voters might have overlooked.

Among those are Weinstein and MGM's Robert Kennedy tale "Bobby," which received mixed reviews and has done only middling business at the box office. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, "Bobby" was nominated for best drama by Globe voters.

Other smaller films such as "Little Children," a best drama nominee that also earned a dramatic-actress slot for Kate Winslet, and "Sherrybaby," which received a dramatic-actress nomination for Maggie Gyllenhaal, also can benefit from the Globe publicity come Oscar time, Weinstein said.

"It makes people stop and pause and think," Weinstein said. "Maggie Gyllenhaal gets a new lease on life. `Little Children' gets a new lease on life. All these movies have a shot."

Winslet, who's been nominated four previous times for Golden Globes (and four times for Oscars), said: "In a way I think it feels more amazing (this year) because 'Little Children' is a heavy, emotional relationship piece, and those sometimes don't necessarily hang around.

"I'm so used to going to these things and not winning," she joked later. "The nice part is, I can go with a spring in my step."

Other surprise acting nominees include Chiwetel Ejiofor as a drag queen in the comedy "Kinky Boots" and Ben Affleck for his supporting turn as George Reeves in "Hollywoodland."

Then there's "Apocalypto," Mel Gibson's relentlessly bloody Mayan epic, which was surprising not because it was nominated — it's gorgeous and superbly crafted — but because of where it landed: in the foreign-film category, even though it comes from the United States. Same goes for Clint Eastwood's elegant, respectful "Letters From Iwo Jima," which looks at World War II through the eyes (and in the language) of Japanese soldiers.

Eastwood was one of several nominees who will end up competing against themselves on Globes night: He's up for directing both "Letters" and "Flags of Our Fathers," which looks at the Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the military men shown in the famous flag-raising photo.

DiCaprio is up for best actor not just for "The Departed" but also for "Blood Diamond."

And Helen Mirren was nominated twice in the TV movie or miniseries category in addition to her nomination in the dramatic-actress category for her searing work in "The Queen."

Such doubling-up has never happened before in the history of the Globes. Whether or not these contenders end up canceling themselves out, it's an honor just to be nominated, as they say — and twice as nice.