Odds-On Oscar Favorites Emerge as Noms Near

Even if you dismiss the Golden Globes event as nothing but a big Hollywood party, it's perfectly timed to have a major impact on the Academy Awards.

Indeed, while the stars of "Brokeback Mountain" were celebrating this week, many Oscar voters were hard at work, screening any films they'd missed to submit their ballots in time to meet the Jan. 21 deadline for Academy Award nominations. These results are released 10 days later.

Clearly, Ang Lee's controversial cowboy film got a major boost at a critical time -- and few disagree that that isn't an advantage.

"If timing and perception weren't important, studios wouldn't wait until the end of the year to release their Oscar hopefuls," says Toby Miller, director of the film and video culture program at the University of California at Riverside.

"Winning a Globe makes you look like an Oscar front-runner."

Sure, the Globes are picked by the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association -- there are fewer than 100 members and many of them are not the most prominent critics. But the Academy Awards are chosen by some 6,000 film industry professionals, including the most prominent actors, directors, producers in Hollywood.

Still, the Globes show gets more press and higher TV ratings than any other pre-Oscar awards show, and for most of the public, the ceremony signals the kickoff to the awards season.

'It Was a Joke at One Point'

Over the years, the Globes have made some famously bad choices, so bad that the credibility of the event has at times been called into question. When Pia Zadora won "New Star of the Year" in 1982, it became the joke of Hollywood. Her turn in "Butterfly" had been widely dismissed by critics. Still, voters saw fit to honor her above future Oscar-winner Kathleen Turner, Elizabeth McGovern and Rachel Ward, among other nominees.

It was later widely reported that Zadora's billionaire husband had treated some Globe voters to luxury vacations.

"It was a joke at one point. They were whores for a while, and they suffered mightily for their mistakes," says film historian Louis Giannetti, author of "Understanding Film."

"But it can't be denied that these days the Globes are one of the most watched awards shows, and the winners get a major pre-Oscar bounce."

To be sure, nine of the past 11 Academy Awards for best picture won either the best drama or best musical or comedy award at the Globes. Of course, members of the Hollywood foreign press don't seem like such swamis when you consider that they're the only major awarding group that offers two categories for best picture and other categories, doubling their chances of picking the eventual Oscar winner.

Even then, the Globes are hardly infallible. Top film honors last year went to "The Aviator" for drama and "Sideways" for comedy/musical. Both Oscar-nominated films lost out to "Million Dollar Baby."

But you have to go back to 1996's "Braveheart" to find the last Oscar-winner without corresponding honors at the Globes -- and ultimately, there's no such thing as a foolproof Academy Award prognosticator.

Oscar Betting Takes Shape

If nothing else, winning top honors at the Globes nearly guarantees a film's chance of becoming an Oscar favorite. "We don't handicap the films by quality. The betting lines for award shows are established by the public's perception of which film has momentum," says Peter Ross of YourWager.com.

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