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Most years, we settle down to watch the Golden Globes wondering who’s going to win. Getting ready for this year’s edition Sunday night, we were wondering if anybody was going show up.


Now we know: Nobody will - at least not anybody who’s anybody in Hollywood, and certainly not on your television screens.


The 10-week-old strike by the Writers Guild of America, having disrupted movie production, inconvenienced talk show hosts and bookers, and cast a pall over just about everything else connected with show business, has reduced Sunday’s scheduled telecast of the 65th annual Golden Globes from the usual two-hour-plus party to a one-hour press conference. It will be telecast at 9 p.m. on NBC.


Until last week, both the network and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which sponsors the Globes, struggled to find ways of telecasting the ceremonies as planned, despite the threat of pickets by striking writers. But members of the Screen Actors Guild, including the 72 Globe nominees in TV and film, said they would honor picket lines and stay clear of the ceremonies. That this brouhaha over the Globes has proved a bigger story than the nominations is further testament to what’s shaping up to be among the quirkier, least predictable movie awards season in recent memory.


Put simply, no clear favorite in any category has so far asserted for itself a clear route toward the winners’ circle at the Academy Awards Feb. 24.


Yes, “Atonement” has collected the most Globe nominations (seven) of any 2007 film; its contenders include Joe Wright for best director, Keira Knightley and James McAvoy for best lead dramatic actress and actor.


But that this sweeping adaptation of Ian McEwen’s time-spanning, shape-shifting novel is only one of seven competing for the best dramatic picture Globe suggests the breadth of contenders. (The others are “American Gangster,” “Eastern Promises,” “The Great Debaters,” “Michael Clayton,” “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood.”)


Every other Globe movie category has five competitors - except for best animated feature, whose nominees are “Ratatouille,” “Persepolis” and “The Simpsons Movie.” And even that category looks competitive enough to make people wonder whether “Ratatouille,” the Disney-Pixar megahit, can withstand a challenge from art-house darling “Persepolis.”


“Where’s the buzz?” could be the key question not just for Sunday’s Globe nominees, but for the entire awards season. Any one of the above-mentioned best dramatic picture nominees could legitimately claim the title and carry other nominees with it tonight. Could “Michael Clayton,” the intricately plotted legal thriller, win and take best dramatic actor nominee George Clooney onto its coattails? And what about “There Will Be Blood,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s staggeringly audacious epic about a soulless oil man? It appeared on dozens of end-of-the-year “best” lists throughout the country and has once again placed the formidable acting talents of Daniel Day-Lewis, another best dramatic actor nominee, before the world’s awed scrutiny.


But there’s likely to be more buzz swirling around “No Country for Old Men,” which is nominated for four Globes and has so far collected best picture awards from the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle and critics’ associations in Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.


Should Joel and Ethan Coen’s tense frontier thriller win at least two of the four Globes it’s nominated for (including Javier Bardem’s portrayal of a psychotic gunman for best supporting actor), it should pick up more momentum heading for the Oscars.


Yet the relentless and, some might say, remorseless violence depicted in “No Country” hasn’t drawn the kind of affection that, say, “Juno” has received from critics and audiences alike since its release last month. Then again, they’re not squaring off in the same category.


Jason Reitman’s droll, warm-hearted indie comedy about a pregnant teen’s choice of yuppie parents for her child, is nominated for three Globes, including best musical or comedy picture and best actress in a musical or comedy (Ellen Page). “Juno’s” low-budget charms remind many viewers of last year’s indie favorite “Little Miss Sunshine,” which was defeated in its bid for a Golden Globe in the best musical or comedy picture by the lavish musical “Dreamgirls.”


The musicals competing this year against “Juno” include “Hairspray” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Both have accumulated respectful reviews with “Hairspray,” much like “Dreamgirls,” catapulting a newcomer toward a Globe nomination for acting. Last year, the lucky ingenue was Jennifer Hudson, who won the Globe - and, eventually, the Oscar - for best supporting actress. This year, it’s Nikki Blonsky, who’s nominated for best actress in a musical or comedy. Her competition is pretty formidable, including the aforementioned Page, Marion Cotillard for her stunning Edith Piaf rendering in “La Vie en Rose” and Amy Adams for “Enchanted.” Which makes Blonsky’s great leap forward all the more impressive.


Handicapping the Globes has never been as easy as forecasting the Oscars. The Foreign Press Association is notorious for making the eccentric, never-to-be-duplicated pick. (Now what year was it that Pia Zadora won for “Butterfly”? Ah yes, 1982!)


And after all, by the time the Oscars come around, all the various trade awards, including those from SAG, WGA and the guilds representing directors and producers, have already weighed in with most of those awards all but locked in for their respective Academy Award categories. The phrase, “As the Globes go, so go the Oscars,” has never been submitted as absolute truth.


Unless, that is, the writers’ strike continues for another month. Then, all those presenters and nominees may well be facing the same dilemma on whether to cross picket lines on Feb. 24. Stay tuned - if you can.


___


GOLDEN GLOBES BROADCAST


NBC’s stripped-down broadcast of the Golden Globes begins Sunday at 7 p.m. with Matt Lauer hosting “Going for Gold,” a “Dateline NBC” special leading up to the 9 p.m. news conference, on NBC, at which the winners will be announced.


In pretaped segments, nominees including James McAvoy, Sally Field and Nikki Blonsky will sit down for one-on-one interviews with NBC correspondents.


The special also has commentary by comedian Kathy Griffin. And did we mention that NBC’s “Football Night in America” team will predict the night’s winners? Really.

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