LOS ANGELES — Hollywood’s first big show on the road to the Academy Awards will help determine if silence is golden this season.
The black-and-white silent film “The Artist” leads contenders for Sunday’s Golden Globes with six nominations, among them best musical or comedy, directing and writing honors for Michel Havanavicius and acting slots for Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo.
Though still playing in narrow release, the film has found enthusiastic audiences and has been a critical darling since premiering at last May’s Cannes Film Festival, positioning it as the first silent movie with serious awards prospects since the first years of the Oscars in the late 1920s.
In an age of elaborate computer effects and digital 3-D projection, “The Artist” is such a throwback to early cinema that it comes off as something entirely fresh.
“It’s very relaxing for people to actually go to this movie,” said Dujardin, nominated for best actor in a musical or comedy for his role as a silent-era star whose career implodes when talkies take over. “It’s a new visual and emotional experience for people. ... It’s really strange and rare to not hear anything in the theater.”
Tied for second-place at the Globes with five nominations each are George Clooney’s family tale “The Descendants” and the literary adaptation “The Help,” both competing for best drama.
Also in the running for best drama: Martin Scorsese’s family adventure “Hugo”; Clooney’s political thriller “The Ides of March”; Brad Pitt’s sports tale “Moneyball”; and Steven Spielberg’s World War I epic “War Horse.”
For best musical or comedy, “The Artist” is up against: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s cancer story “50/50”; Kristen Wiig’s wedding romp “Bridesmaids”; Woody Allen’s romantic fantasy “Midnight in Paris”; and Michelle Williams’ Marilyn Monroe tale “My Week with Marilyn.”
Along with honors from trade groups such as the directors, actors and writers guilds, the Globes help sort out key contenders for the Oscars, whose nominations balloting closes Friday, with nominees announced Jan. 24.
A win Sunday can firm up a film’s prospects to triumph at the Oscars, although the Globes have had a bad track record predicting eventual best-picture winners in recent years.
Over the last seven years, only one Globe best-picture winner — 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire” — has gone on to claim the top honor at the Oscars. Before that stretch, the Globes had been on an eight-year streak in which one of its two best-picture recipients went on to become the Oscar champ.
Last year, “The Social Network” won best-drama at the Globes and looked like the early Oscar favorite. But momentum later swung to eventual Oscar best-picture winner “The King’s Speech.”
The Globes generally do a better job predicting who might take home the acting Oscars. A year ago, all four actors who won Oscars earned Globes first — lead players Colin Firth for “The King’s Speech” and Natalie Portman for “Black Swan” and “The Fighter” supporting stars Christian Bale and Melissa Leo.
Along with Clooney, Pitt and Williams, other established stars nominated for Globes include Meryl Streep in the Margaret Thatcher tale “The Iron Lady,” Leonardo DiCaprio in the J. Edgar Hoover saga “J. Edgar,” Glenn Close in the Irish drama “Albert Nobbs” and Kate Winslet in the stage adaptation “Carnage.”
The lineup also features many newcomers to the awards scene, among them Wiig for “Bridesmaids,” Gordon-Levitt for “50/50,” Michael Fassbender for the sex-addict drama “Shame,” Rooney Mara for the thriller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and Brendan Gleeson for the Irish crime tale “The Guard.”
“The Help” picked up three acting nominations: Viola Davis for dramatic actress and Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain for supporting actress. Adapted from Kathryn Stockett’s best-seller about black maids speaking out about their white employers during the civil-rights movement, the hit drama has been a career-maker for many of its collaborators, including first-time director Tate Taylor, a childhood friend of Stockett, and producer Brunson Green.
“It’s a testament to pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and not taking no for an answer,” said Spencer, a longtime friend of Tate who had been toiling in small parts before “The Help.” “Kathryn was an underdog, and Tate and I and Brunson. ... They’d only done independent films and shorts, and now they’re in the big leagues.”
The Globes are presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of about 85 entertainment reporters for overseas outlets.
The ceremony, carried live on NBC, is a more laid-back affair than the Oscars, with Globe guests sharing dinner and drinks that can loosen up stars’ tongues when it comes to presenting or accepting awards.
Ricky Gervais returns as host for the third-straight year, despite uneasy moments a year ago when he took sharp swipes at celebrities and Golden Globe organizers themselves. It paid off with a boost in TV ratings for the show, though, so the Globes invited Gervais back.
Behind the scenes, the HFPA and the Globes’ longtime producers, dick clark productions, continue to fight in federal court over which entity has the authority to negotiate multi-million dollar broadcast rights to future shows. Although this year’s telecast was never in serious jeopardy, the HFPA is anxious to try to negotiate a better deal with other networks.
While Hollywood will be in party mode right through the Feb. 26 Oscars, not every nominee will join the fun. “Midnight in Paris” director Allen, a notorious no-show at awards ceremonies, said he does not believe in competition among films.
“Who’s to say Steven Spielberg’s film is better than Martin Scorsese’s or better than Francis Coppola’s? These guys are all wonderful filmmakers, and everybody does his best,” Allen said. “Who’s to say what’s best? You can say that’s your favorite, and that’s fine. ... But to say it’s better than another film, it’s a very subjective judgment. Someone else may feel, `No, I think this is the better film.’ It’s unquantifiable.”