Birdman (Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical)
Fox Searchlight
January 9, 2015 10:49 AM EST

It’s the biggest awards show put on by people you don’t know. The Golden Globes, the 72nd edition of which NBC will air on Sunday with hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, crams a couple hundred movie and TV stars and their handlers into the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom for three hours of hijinks, lojinks and the bestowing of prizes by… who? The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a coterie of journalists for international newspapers and magazines. Their job the rest of the year is to get interviews with the very celebrities they’ll soon be showering with trophies. But the HFPA’s provenance doesn’t matter. The idea is to stage a full-dress rehearsal for the Oscars (Feb. 22), with free drinks and thus more fun.

This year, several of the movie categories seem stone-cold locks: Michael Keaton as Comedy or Musical Actor in Birdman, J.K. Simmons as Supporting Actor in Whiplash and Patricia Arquette as Supporting Actress in Boyhood. And the received wisdom of the savants over at the Gold Derby awardophile website suggests that only two of the races — Actress in a Comedy or Musical and Director — are at all close.

Still, you never know until the envelopes are opened and the winners proclaimed. Meryl Streep, nominated for her 29th time in 37 years, could glean Best Supporting Actress for her Into the Woods Witch. The LEGO Movie could fail to take its widely predicted prize for Best Animated Feature. And this part-time prognosticator would be deeply pleased if some of the movies he loves were to sneak up and beat out some of the movies he has put his money on here. So let’s look at six of the movie categories in contention.

ACTOR IN A DRAMA: The early line promised a war of conjoined twins: Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything vs. Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. Each man plays a brilliant Cambridge mathematician achieving great things in the face of daunting odds: Hawking’s ALS, Turing’s secret (and, at the time, illegal) homosexuality. But Redmayne’s performance is warmer, more physical within crippling limits, and looks to be set for a Globe. His other stiff competition: David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Steve Carell as the plutocrat and wrestling fancier John DuPont in Foxcatcher and — the only fictional character in this quintet — Jake Gyllenhaal as the conniving newshawk in Nightcrawler. We’d pick Cumberbatch or Gyllenhaal for sheer, acute audacity, but Redmayne’s is certainly the cuddliest of the five.

ACTRESS IN A DRAMA: The linguistics professor played by Julianne Moore in Still Alice could be a cousin to Redmayne’s Hawking: a brilliant scholar whose functions are breaking down. Alice, at 50, is beset by early Alzheimer’s; she is both the victim of her disease and its analyst. Moore’s beautifully calibrated performance should win her this category. (She’s also nominated for Actress in a Comedy or Musical for her crazy-amazing turn as a desperate actress in Maps to the Stars. A double win would be unprecedented and fully earned.) Reese Witherspoon, as the hiker in search of herself in Wild, provides Moore’s chief competition.

ACTRESS IN A COMEDY OR MUSICAL: The Comedy or Musical category dates back to the 1940s and ’50s, when the musical genre was dominant and the winners actually sang on screen. For the first time since 2007, two of the nominees here are the leads in musicals: Emily Blunt in Into the Woods and Quvenzhané Wallis in Annie. The 11-year-old stands no chance; Blunt’s real rival is Amy Adams as the painter Margaret Keane in Big Eyes. With her sixth Golden Globe nomination, and a win last year for American Hustle, Adams is the safe choice in a role that allows her to enact women’s progress in the 1960s from caged bird to roaring lion. But we’ll go with Blunt, not known primarily as a singer — and, in all, not nearly so well known as she should be — who becomes the emotional heart of a surprise year-end hit.

DIRECTOR: Some folks would like to see a rematch of last year’s battle between Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave and Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity — the sweeping epic of race relations vs. the imaginative experiment in long, long camera takes. This year’s combatants would be Ava DuVernay, nominated for Selma, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman. Those latecomers have an uphill battle against Richard Linklater, whose Boyhood premiered nearly a year ago at Sundance. Linklater spent a dozen years shooting Boyhood, 15 or 20 minutes of usable footage each summer, as his subject and lead actor, Ellar Coltrane, blossomed from first-grader to college freshman. Sustaining a mood and a film tempo for all that time should earn Linklater his citation over four very worthy contenders, including this particular Globe-watcher’s favorite: Wes Anderson, for The Grand Budapest Hotel. But that’s why TIME has its Best Movies list each year and the HFPA members have theirs.

COMEDY OR MUSICAL: This category really should be called Comedy, Musical or Whatever, since it’s a catch-all for movies that aren’t quite the sort of uplifting true-life adventures that win most of the official awards. To venerable cinephiles, the phrase “Keaton comedy” might mean a Buster Keaton silent classic, or maybe Annie Hall. Now, thanks to the HFPA, moviegoers who may have been impressed but perplexed when they saw Birdman now know that this study of an actor’s suicidal depression was really a rollicking laff riot. Or, as we’d designate it, a Whatever. Up against one musical (Into the Woods) and two modest social comedies (Pride and St. Vincent), Birdman has only The Grand Budapest Hotel to worry about. Which is no worry at all. This Keaton-Iñárritu collaboration will win for degree of difficulty — shooting the movie in 10-minute takes that required insane preparation from the directors, actors and crew — and because it’s the kind of inside-showbiz comedy-trauma that gets cherished by movie people, including the journalists who interview movie people and give them prizes at a big party on TV.

DRAMA: This is the slot traditionally reserved for a trenchant bio-pic, as in three of the past four Golden Globe years (The Social Network, Argo, 12 Years a Slave). But it appears as though the twins, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, will cancel each other out; and that Foxcatcher is too glum, grim and withholding to be proclaimed the definitive drama of 2014. What about Selma? Questions of its historical veracity in portraying the relationship of Dr. King and President Lyndon Johnson might have slowed its awards momentum; we’ll see next Thursday when the Motion Picture Academy announces its Oscar nominations. But this looks like an evening, indeed the year, for Boyhood: Director, Supporting Actress and Golden Globe Drama.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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