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With no clear frontrunner in the end-of-year awards races, the movie world is mulling over Thursday’s Golden Globe nominations, looking for a hint of which way the wind is blowing.


What we’re getting, though, is confusion.


The British World War II-era drama “Atonement” (which debuted a week ago in limited release) emerged as the favored film, pulling down seven nominations, among them best drama, actress (Keira Knightley), actor (James McAvoy) and director (Joe Wright).


“Atonement” has been receiving mixed reviews from American reviewers. Most critical opinion leans toward the Coen brothers’ violent “No Country for Old Men” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s turn-of-the-century oil-drilling drama, “There Will Be Blood.”


Now, with the Globes’ endorsement of “Atonement,” it’s a three-way race.


Establishment Hollywood has a love/hate relationship with the Globe folks, who throw what is generally considered the best, most enjoyable awards party in the business.


At the same time the Hollywood Foreign Press Association struggles for respect. A recurring joke is that the people who cast votes for the Golden Globes one day may be valet parking your car the next.


But when the Globes speak, the industry pays attention. That the association has thrown so much weight behind “Atonement” should jumpstart that film’s chances in the upcoming Oscar race.


Other films contending for best drama are “Eastern Promises,” “Michael Clayton,” “No Country ...,” “There Will Be Blood,” “American Gangster” and a late arrival, “The Great Debaters,” the Denzel Washington-directed drama about a black college debate team in the Great Depression that opens Christmas Day. Because of a tie in voting, the association picked seven dramatic nominees instead of the usual five.


Meanwhile, Tom Hanks’ “Charlie Wilson’s War” (opening Dec. 21) racked up five nominations, making it the de facto leader in the race for best comedy or musical. The Golden Globes distinguishes between drama and comedy/musical, allowing it to hand out twice as many awards as the Oscars.


The film also received three acting noms (Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts). It’s a fact-based comedy about an ineffectual U.S. congressman who wages a secret war on the Soviets in `80s Afghanistan.


But it’s a very mixed pack. Also in contention are the Beatles musical “Across the Universe,” the musical comedy “Hairspray,” the teen-pregnancy comedy “Juno” and the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (also opening the 21st).


And it’s all starting to feel like insider baseball. The Globes’ nominations are thin when it comes to big audience-pleasing movies. Of the best picture nominees (in both drama and comedy/musical categories), only the musical “Hairspray” can be called a certifiable hit so far.


Which means that when the Globes are handed out Jan. 13, they’re likely to go to movies and performances that the vast majority of American moviegoers haven’t seen and don’t care about.

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