Until 2004, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences moved its Oscars show from March to February (Feb. 26 this year), the Globes actually had some sway over Academy Award voting. But by the time the celebrity-studded ceremony kicks off at 8 p.m. Sunday, AMPAS' voting members will have already submitted their ballots (the deadline was Friday). So instead of influencing Oscar campaigns and building momentum for this picture or that star, the Globes now stand apart to some degree - an excuse for Brad and Angelina, George and Meryl, Leonardo and Viola to take a table at the Beverly Hilton, guzzle some Moet & Chandon (the official champagne of the Golden Globes) and table-hop during those long commercial breaks.
If Meryl Streep is the front-runner for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama category, it's not just because her Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady is uncanny. It's because there are more than a dozen HFPA members who hail from the United Kingdom or its Commonwealth sister nations, and probably remember a thing or two about the former British prime minister. Viola Davis, who plays the hard-working, hard-pressed maid in the segregationist South of The Help, probably has the best shot at taking this one from Streep. (The other contenders: Glenn Close, for Albert Nobbs; Rooney Mara, for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; Tilda Swinton, for We Need to Talk About Kevin.)
In the Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical category, Frenchman Jean Dujardin, the Gene Kelly-esque star of the silent black-and-white charmer The Artist, is the closest thing to a sure bet. For one, he's French, and there are a half-dozen or so Gauls in the HFPA pack. For another, the film is a celebration of old Hollywood, and the HFPA loves Hollywood. (They love it so much, it's part of their name!) If Dujardin has competition, it'll come from Owen Wilson, who's about as American as you can get, but he's the star of Midnight in Paris, which takes place in, yes, Paris, and was made by that most revered of European auteurs, Woody Allen. (Well, lately he's a European auteur - his most recent films were shot in England, Spain, and France, and his 2012 release, Nero Fiddled, is set in Rome.) The rest of the Comedy or Musical thespians: Brendan Gleeson, for The Guard; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, for 50/50; and Ryan Gosling, for Crazy, Stupid, Love.
This year, the Golden Globes have six films, not the usual five, vying for the coveted Best Motion Picture - Drama prize. They are: The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, The Ides of March, Moneyball, and War Horse. My personal pick here would be The Descendants, but is it possible that the Clooney Fan Club contingent of the Foreign Press membership will split its votes between The Descendants, which may represent his finest acting turn to date, and The Ides of March, in which Clooney costars (as a presidential candidate), but which he also directed?
If Clooney negates Clooney, that may leave room for Martin Scorsese's elaborate cinematic fantasy, Hugo, to squeak in, or the box-office sleeper The Help, or Moneyball, or Spielberg's War Horse.
But maybe we're overthinking all of this. Better just to sit there with your own official champagne and watch Gervais as he snickers and snaps and roasts 'em like they're on a spit.
Playing bad. Back in September, when the moody neo-noir Drive premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, I sat down with Albert Brooks - the acerbic funnyman who's nominated in the Globes' Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture competition (referred to by the cognoscenti as BPBAAIASRIAMP) - and talked about the challenges of playing a heavy, a violent psycho, when everybody thinks you're Mr. Ha Ha.
"You know, I have never written a villainous part for myself in one of my own movies," he mused, "but all it really took was a director to say, 'This is going to work, and this is going to work with you' - and then it works."
Brooks, who can be seen later this year in Judd Apatow's This Is 40 (playing Paul Rudd's dad), says that violence and villainy lurk in us all.
"Listen, I was a football player," he says. "In real life, the villainous people are the nicest people, they're the charming people. And certainly that's how they lure people into their trap, be it Bernie Madoff or be it Ted Bundy - if they came across as aggressively fiendish, you wouldn't give them your money, and you wouldn't get in their van.
"So, you can be charming and nice and likable, but the second you take a knife out, you're no longer that guy. . . . That's really all it takes: You put a character within a believable framework - if the rest of Drive didn't work, my character wouldn't work - and you can act as violent and crazy as you want.
"You can make it believable."
Golden Globe Awards
8 p.m. Sunday on NBC10
Join movie critic Carrie Rickey and Philadelphia Daily News television critic Ellen Gray at 8 p.m. for an online chat at philly.com. Inquirer fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington blogs about the red-carpet outfits: philly.com/mirrorimage.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/