Geoffrey MacNab: The awards that like to throw up the odd surprise

Another mystery is how the estimable - but highly erratic - Meryl Streep keeps on accruing nominations

The Golden Globes have never been a reliable bellwether for the Oscars. Members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the small organisation that votes on the Globes) get very irritated when reminded that they gave Best Newcomer to nymphet Pia Zadora for her performance in Butterfly in the early 1980s. (Zadora also won a Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress for the same film – surely a unique double.)

The HFPA doesn't like outsiders scrutinising its activities and decision-making processes either. Nonetheless, to their credit, the 95 or so HFPA voting members have consistently been more adventurous in their choices than their brethren in the Academy recently.

This year could be a case in point. Jason Reitman's Up In The Air is the title leading the Golden Globe nominations, but this is no guarantee that it is bound for Oscar glory. It is a funny but surprisingly bleak and subversive comedy in which George Clooney gives a soulful and affecting performance as a loner. George Clooney and his co-stars, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick (also nominees), are thoroughly deserving of awards. However, Up In The Air is essentially a chamber piece: an intimate, character-driven story. This is just the kind of film to appeal to the HFPA, but its taste may be a little too bitter for the Academy voters. Moreover, it looks like a pygmy against a giant when compared to James Cameron's $300m Avatar.

As ever, the Golden Globes have thrown up some surprising omissions and bizarre nominations. Where, one wonders, is the Coen brothers' A Serious Man, another troubling comedy?

Another mystery is how the estimable, but highly erratic, Meryl Streep keeps on accruing nominations, even when she gives ludicrously hammy performances (for example, as a pantomime dame-like Julia Child in Julie and Julia). Streep-ophilia is, however, a tendency shared by HFPA and Oscar voters alike.

British filmmakers are conspicuous by their complete invisibility in the Best Picture and Best Director categories. There is no Slumdog Millionaire or Chariots of Fire for us to rally behind. However, the Brits can claim at least some of the credit for Wes Anderson's animation nominee Fantastic Mr Fox (it was made at Three Mills Studios in London, after all). And it is some consolation that British thesps are represented in abundance.

Awards season now begins in earnest. As prize ceremony follows prize ceremony, distributors will be trying desperately to use nominations to stoke up box-office takings. However, when the Academy Awards are given out in early March, it is a fair bet that the momentum behind Avatar will be well-nigh unstoppable.

Recent Best Picture winners like Crash, No Country For Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire have been (in Oscar terms at least) indie, offbeat choices. It's time for a blockbuster to win – and James Cameron's new opus fits the bill.

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