The dark and sometimes twisted streak running through so many of this year's Golden Globe nominations confirms what the pundits have been declaring for weeks now: that the awards pendulum has swung firmly back towards more rarefied audience tastes and away from the popcorn entertainment most often identified with Hollywood.
With a full eight Globe nominations for Chicago, another seven for The Hours, six for Adaptation and five apiece for About Schmidt and Gangs Of New York, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) has largely turned its back on the more easily digestible wide-appeal productions typified by recent best picture winners like A Beautiful Mind and Gladiator.
This is not to say Hollywood's studios will be left out in the cold when the members of the HFPA make their final preferences known at the Globe prize-giving ceremony on January 19. Anything but.
Of all ten films nominated for best picture across both the drama and musical/comedy sections, only one truly qualifies as a bona fide independent release - My Big Fat Greek Wedding - and ironically enough, it's the most light-hearted of the entire bunch. But even Greek Wedding's indie credentials are somewhat compromised by the initial involvement of pay-TV network HBO, part of the AOL Time Warner colossus, which took video rights.
In fact, the big media empires had a hand in every film to receive multiple nominations. A small few, such as About A Boy, Adaptation and The Hours, are being directly handled by Hollywood's major distribution labels in the US. The rest come courtesy of the conglomerates' specialist film subsidiaries that cater for review-driven films aimed at discerning adult niches.
Among these studio offshoots is Universal's newly-established Focus Features, whose co-presidents James Schamus and David Linde described their six nominations as the "the ideal holiday capper to our company's first year."
But suggestive of Hollywood's leeriness when it comes to throwing their full weight behind prestige projects, the vast majority of the studios' nominated films also depended on foreign partners for a fair chunk of their financing.
This risk aversion applies as much to the two super-budget nominees - Gangs Of New York and The Lord Of The Rings: Two Towers - as it does to the less monetarily extravagant films such as Chicago, The Hours, The Pianist, About Schmidt, Nicholas Nickleby, Far From Heaven, Frida and Igby Goes Down.
In the case of Roman Polanski's The Pianist, the entire production was backed by French and German sources before being picked up by Focus at Cannes, where it won the Palme d'Or. Although Polanski himself was overlooked as best director, he nonetheless professed gratitude upon hearing about his film's twin nominations, saying: "It is heartening that the film's message about the power of art and the human spirit is being heard worldwide."
Adrien Brody, who was cited for his lead performance in The Pianist, learned of his nomination today via a friend's message on his answering machine as he woke up. After the intense physical demands required of his character, it was welcome news: "It's an incredible story about an incredible will to survive. I had to lose 30 pounds for the role and had to learn Chopin, which was wonderful because not only did I feel more connected to what I was doing but during the hunger the music was a perfect distraction and it helped me. I isolated myself on this project and experienced a great deal of loneliness."
In terms of individual bragging rights, Rob Marshall's directorial debut Chicago boasts the most nominations chiefly as a result of having as many as five of its acting performances cited, including unexpected supporting nods for Queen Latifah and John C. Reilly.
Less surprising were actress nods for Chicago's two highly touted female leads, plus one for Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven, but that didn't stop the gushing reactions from one and all. (It is a measure of the Globes' considerable influence and standing across the film industry that all such expressions of delight are made so readily available to the media the moment the nominations become known.)
"I am absolutely over the moon about my nomination along with the nominations of our fantastic cast, producers, director and writer. All this is a bonus to an experience of a lifetime," said Catherine Zeta Jones. Her co-star Renee Zellweger chimed in: "I'll cherish the experience we shared on Chicago. I could not be more grateful to have been part of it and could not be more proud of my friends. I am elated." And a similar sentiment was echoed by Moore: "I am absolutely thrilled and so honored. This movie means so much to me and I've been so excited by the response."
Her director Todd Haynes was noticeably missing from the director shortlist, and Far From Heaven itself failed to get a best picture nomination despite being the year's top choice of several US critics. But Haynes was ebullient nonetheless with his Globe tally: "I'm completely honored to have received a screenplay nomination, but my pride swells for my fearless actors Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid and the incomparable Elmer Bernstein."
Miramax Films, brushing aside a year of often-unsolicited media scrutiny, walked away with the greatest single haul of film nominations. As a domestic distributor, it notched up 19 nominations, far ahead of second-place Paramount's tally of eight. In addition, Miramax also co-financed The Hours with Paramount in return for international rights.
There was a particular sense of validation for Gangs Of New York and its director Martin Scorsese. Any residing ill-feeling hanging over from what was by some accounts a bruising production marathon was quickly forgotten as Gangs basked in its six nominations just a day before the $100m labour of love was due to open in the US through Miramax.
Making a point of praising all his collaborators, cast and crew members, Scorsese used the occasion to remind everyone why this project mattered so much to him. "For thirty years I had wanted to make a movie about the city where I grew up and about our country, and the convulsions and tragedies we've endured in order to grow as a democracy."
The fact that Globes separates out drama from musicals and comedies has traditionally opened the door to films and acting performances that have yet to shine in the pre-Oscar handicapping. Among the happy beneficiaries this year of this novel demarcation were About A Boy and Nicholas Nickleby, plus actors Hugh Grant, Adam Sandler, Richard Gere, Kieran Culkin, Goldie Hawn, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Nia Vardalos in the non-dramatic categories. The enlarged nomination field may also have helped Salma Hayek and Leonardo DiCaprio secure their largely unforeseen dramatic acting nods.
Eric Fellner, co-chief of Working Title, the UK outfit that co-produced About A Boy with Tribeca Films, described the nomination as a "pleasant surprise" and one that represented "a ringing endorsement of Hugh Grant, Chris and Paul Weitz and Jane Rosenthal's commitment to getting the film made. Although we have a credit, they deserve it far more than we do."
Asked further if he thought the nomination would translate into Oscar success, Fellner replied: "Oh my God. There are so many great films; we all know what the most likely ones are. You have to remember that there are 10 Globe best picture nominations but only five Oscar nominations."
Nicholas Nickleby's best picture nomination, another feather in the new-look United Artists' cap alongside its two nods for Igby Goes Down, was a source of both "shock and delight" for its writer-director Douglas McGrath. "After you have been by yourself writing this script for a long, long time it is like a dream come true. Every day somebody magnificent came through the door and that made the atmosphere on set wonderful. It was really nice for me to work on because I care as deeply about the characters as the actors, having written them."
In the hotly contested foreign-language category, six films are nominated including two - Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress from France and Talk To Her from Spain - that were not submitted by their respective countries of nationality for Oscar consideration.
Underlying Mexican cinema's rising stature, The Crime of Father Amaro became the third Mexican film in three years to land a Golden Globe nomination, after Y Tu Mama Tambien last year and Amores Perros in 2000. "I am delighted about this because we have been working for many years and we have many good Mexican films now getting distributed all around the world, so it is great and I hope this continues," said Amaro director Carlos Carrera.
Caroline Link, who directed Germany's Nowhere In Africa, was equally enthused. "For me it is really overwhelming because I made Beyond Silence, which was nominated for an Oscar [in 1998], and now this has been nominated for a Golden Globe," Link said from Munich. "I have made three movies and it is incredible how they travel so well. I was able to bring my own experiences of relationships to the story and there was also the opportunity to make a movie in Kenya. It was important not to use Africa as a beautiful backdrop with safari and landscape shots; I wanted to make the movie like a little theatre play. It is important that you show how rough this country was and how different it was for the family to be there."
Fernando Meirelles, who directed the blazing Rio crime saga City Of God, said the picture was made to show the Brazilian middle classes how their less fortunate compatriots live. "Now it has become the most watched Brazilian film in 20 years and with this nomination by the HFPA, it has gotten the attention of the world as well. I am surprised and humbled by the reception and the nomination and particularly to be a part of a growing wave of interesting and important Latin American films."
As far as television nominations are concerned, the big news once again was HBO, which like Miramax, is headquartered in New York. The pay-TV network recorded 26 nominations, twice as many as its nearest rival, NBC, even without taking into account HBO's connection with My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
In the past, the HFPA has shown itself to be a shrewd gauge of television trends by honouring new series such as 24, Alias and Six Feet Under with Golden Globes ahead of any Emmy recognition. This year's nominated batch of breakthrough series included Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Shield and Monk.
The international acting talent that always tends to shine in the film categories - and continued this year through the likes of Michael Caine, Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant - also carried over to the television categories this year. Among the TV nominees are Jim Broadbent, Linus Roache, Michael Gambon, Albert Finney, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave and Helena Bonham-Carter.
Jeremy Kay in LOS ANGELES and Adam Minns in LONDON contributed to this report
GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS:
Best Motion Picture - Drama
Gangs Of New York
The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
Best Motion Picture - Musical Or Comedy
About A Boy
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Best Foreign Language Film
Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress (France)
City Of God (Brazil)
The Crime Of Father Amaro (El Crimen Del Padre Amaro) (Mexico)
Nowhere In Africa (Germany)
Talk To Her (Spain
Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture - Drama
Salma Hayek, Frida
Nicole Kidman, The Hours
Diane Lane, Unfaithful
Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven
Meryl Streep, The Hours
Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture - Drama
Adrien Brody, The Pianist
Michael Caine, The Quiet American
Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York
Leonardo DiCaprio, Catch Me if You Can
Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt
Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture - Musical Or Comedy
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Secretary
Goldie Hawn, The Banger Sisters
Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Renee Zellweger, Chicago
Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago
Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture - Musical Or Comedy
Nicolas Cage, Adaptation
Kieran Culkin, Igby Goes Down
Richard Gere, Chicago
Hugh Grant, About a Boy
Adam Sandler, Punch-Drunk Love
Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture
Kathy Bates, About Schmidt
Cameron Diaz, Gangs Of New York
Queen Latifah, Chicago
Susan Sarandon, Igby Goes Down
Meryl Streep, Adaptation
Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture
Chris Cooper, Adaptation
Ed Harris, The Hours
Paul Newman, Road To Perdition
Dennis Quaid, Far From Heaven
John C. Reilly, Chicago
Best Director - Motion Picture
Stephen Daldry, The Hours
Peter Jackson, The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
Spike Jonze, Adaptation
Rob Marshall, Chicago
Alexander Payne, About Schmidt
Martin Scorsese, Gangs Of New York
Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
Bill Condon, Chicago
David Hare, The Hours
Todd Haynes, Far From Heaven
Charlie Kaufman And Donald Kaufman, Adaptation
Alexander Payne And Jim Taylor, About Schmidt
Best Original Score - Motion Picture
Elmer Bernstein, Far From Heaven
Terence Blanchard, 25th Hour
Peter Gabriel, Rabbit Proof Fence
Philip Glass, The Hours
Elliot Goldenthal, Frida
Best Original Song - Motion Picture
"Die Another Day"- Die Another Day, Music By: Madonna, Mirwais Ahmadzai, Lyrics By: Madonna
"Father And Daughter"- The Wild Thornberrys Movie, Music & Lyrics By: Paul Simon
"The Hands That Built America" - Gangs Of New York, Music & Lyrics By: U2
"Here I Am"- Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron, Music By: Hans Zimmer, Lyrics By: Bryan Adams/Gretchen Peters
"Lose Yourself"- 8 Mile, Music & Lyrics By: Eminem
Television Series - Drama
Six Feet Under
The West Wing
Television Series - Musical Or Comedy
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Sex And The City
Will & Grace
Actress In A Television Series - Drama
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Jennifer Garner, Alias
Rachel Griffiths, Six Feet Under
Marg Helgenberger, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
Allison Janney, The West Wing
Actor In A Television Series - Drama
Michael Chiklis, The Shield
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
Peter Krause, Six Feet Under
Martin Sheen, The West Wing
Kiefer Sutherland, 24
Actress In A Television Series - Musical Or Comedy
Jennifer Aniston, Friends
Bonnie Hunt, Life with Bonnie
Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle
Debra Messing, Will & Grace
Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City
Actor In A Television Series - Musical Or Comedy
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Matt LeBlanc, Friends
Bernie Mac, The Bernie Mac Show
Eric McCormack, Will & Grace
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
The Gathering Storm
Live From Baghdad
Path to War
Steven Spielberg Presents: Taken
Actress, Mini-Series Or A Motion Picture Made For Television
Helena Bonham Carter, Live From Baghdad
Shirley Maclaine, Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay
Helen Mirren, Door to Door
Vanessa Redgrave, The Gathering Storm
Uma Thurman, Hysterical Blindness
Actor, Mini-Series Or A Motion Picture Made For Television
Albert Finney, The Gathering Storm
Michael Gambon, Path to War
Michael Keaton, Live From Baghdad
William H. Macy, Door to Door
Linus Roache, RFK
Supporting Actress, Series, Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace
Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City
Parker Posey, Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay
Gena Rowlands, Hysterical Blindness
Supporting Actor, Series, Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
Alec Baldwin, Path to War
Jim Broadbent, The Gathering Storm
Bryan Cranston, Malcolm in the Middle
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
Dennis Haysbert, 24
Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos
John Spencer, The West Wing
Donald Sutherland, Path to War
Bradley Whitford, The West Wing