By Jen Chaney
Wednesday, December 16, 2009; C11
This year's Golden Globe Awards may be dominated by a man living in limbo.
"Up in the Air" -- the critically lauded drama that stars George Clooney as a professional downsizer who never misses an airline connection but consistently fails to connect with his family -- emerged Tuesday as the front-running film in the Golden Globes field with six nominations, including nods for best motion picture -- drama; best director (Jason Reitman); best screenplay; best actor (Clooney) and best supporting actress (Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick).
"My morning was as good as a morning can be," Reitman said from New York. "I woke up with my wife and we watched the announcement on TV, and it was one of those overwhelming occasions in which every time we were about to celebrate, another nomination came."
Up against "Up in the Air" in that best dramatic picture category: "Avatar," James Cameron's sci-fi epic; "The Hurt Locker," Kathryn Bigelow's intense Iraq war picture; a war epic of a very different sort, Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds"; and "Precious," the adaptation of Sapphire's novel "Push," about a pregnant teen suffering unspeakable abuse.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association -- the group of journalists behind the Globes, whose slate of contenders was revealed at Tuesday's annual crack-of-dawn news conference at the Beverly Hilton -- breaks its best-picture field into two categories, honoring five musicals or comedies in addition to the dramas. With the Academy Awards also recognizing 10 Best Picture nominees this year instead of the usual five -- the first time the Oscars will do so since "Casablanca" took top honors over nine other films back in 1943 -- the movies that landed on the Globes' dual list may have an even greater shot at going to the Big Cinematic Dance.
In other words, expect even more Oscar prognosticating about nominees on the Globes' funnier, more melodic end of the spectrum: "Nine," the splashy adaptation of the Fellini-inspired Broadway show; "It's Complicated," the rom-com starring Meryl Streep; "Julie & Julia," another Streep comedy, the one in which she cooks and clucks happily as Julia Child; "(500) Days of Summer," the boy-meets-then-loses-girl indie romance; and "The Hangover," the biggest box office hit so far among the top film contenders and proof that movies in which Mike Tyson air-drums to Phil Collins songs can indeed win some awards attention.
Several acting newcomers certified their breakout star status with Globe nominations, including Carey Mulligan (best actress in a drama for "An Education"), Gabourey Sidibe (named in that same category, for "Precious") and Kendrick, who says that within seconds of hearing the good news, she was immediately shoved in front of a camera for an appearance on CBS's "Early Show."
"I haven't even talked to my mom and dad," she said. "I barely even know where my cellphone is these days."
And, because there's always one dozing nominee in every group, Michael Stuhlbarg, a first-time contender for his role as the abused and befuddled Larry Gopnik in "A Serious Man," admitted he slept through the nomination announcement.
"I was awakened by phone calls from friends and the people I work with congratulating me, and it was a lovely way to be awakened," said Stuhlbarg, who got the nod for best actor (comedy/musical).
The Golden Globes have become newsworthy primarily as the ceremonial kickoff to the annual guessing game known as Oscar season. But the foreign press also recognizes achievement in television, an area that was marked by far fewer surprises this year. In the best-drama category, "Mad Men," which has won the past two years, was again recognized, along with HBO's "Big Love," "Dexter," "House" and "True Blood." Best comedy also delivered three of the usual, hilarious suspects -- "The Office," "30 Rock," "Entourage" -- but added a pair of newcomers: ABC's "Modern Family" and -- get ready to burst into a round of "Don't Stop Believin', " kids -- Fox's popular "Glee."
Some movie notables were marginalized. Director Peter Jackson's once-buzzy "The Lovely Bones" scored only a single nod, for Stanley Tucci's supporting performance. Same deal for the acclaimed "An Education," which was recognized solely for Mulligan. "The Road," meanwhile, was shut out entirely.
Other "Really?" moments:
-- A nod for Julia Roberts as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, for the almost-forgotten "Duplicity";
-- Not one, but two, best-actress nominations for Sandra Bullock, for her turn as a no-nonsense businesswoman in "The Proposal" (musical/comedy) and for her portrayal of a no-nonsense Tennessee woman who takes in a homeless high-schooler in "The Blind Side" (drama).
-- Tobey Maguire's nomination for best actor in a drama, for "Brothers," a film in limited release that hadn't built much buzz in the all-important trophy-prediction blogosphere but now pits Peter Parker against Clooney, Colin Firth ("A Single Man"), Morgan Freeman ("Invictus") and the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, whose work as a grizzled country singer in "Crazy Heart" was already being touted as the performance to beat.
In typically mellow fashion, Bridges -- who has been nominated for four Globes and four Oscars and has never won-- is taking it all in guitar-strumming stride.
"You know, it feels good to be appreciated for your work, and whatever level I get I'm appreciative of," he said. "I don't know what to say. I'm not counting any chickens."
Chicken-counting time -- otherwise known as the night the Golden Globes are handed out -- comes Jan. 17, with the ceremony broadcast live on NBC.