Hollywood With a British Accent

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Actress Helen Mirren won Golden Globes for her portrayal of two British monarchs in Elizabeth I and The Queen

It's nearly six weeks till Oscar Night, but in three major categories, maybe four, the race is all but officially over. Last night's Golden Globe ceremony certified what earlier critics' prizes have indicated: that Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland will win Best Actor, Helen Mirren in The Queen will take Best Actress and Dreamgirls' Jennifer Hudson is a dead cert for Best Supporting Actress.

I'd add Martin Scorsese, who won the Best Director Globe for The Departed, but he's been disappointed so often before — five Oscar nominations without winning, and not even a nod for Taxi Driver or Casino — that it might be imprudent for Scorsese to stoke his hopes one more time. It'll be even creepier that, this time, he's the favorite.

No surprise that Hudson's Cadillac-sleek vehicle won the Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy prize; the Las Vegas handicappers had established Dreamgirls at prohibitive one-to-10 odds. That will put it among the five Oscar nominees for Best Picture with The Queen and The Departed. Other possibilities are the indie fave Little Miss Sunshine and the polyglot Babel, which was a surprise winner of the top Globe prize: Best Motion Picture - Drama. But Babel, whose story spans four countries and five languages, was as apt a choice by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which votes for the Globes, as the actor-laden, L.A.-set Crash was for last year's Oscar voters.

The Globe winner for foreign film, Clint Eastwood's Japanese-language Letters from Iwo Jima, will not even be nominated in that category, since the Academy's foreign-language finalists are selected from a list of films submitted by their home countries. A non-English-language film from the U.S., like Iwo Jima and Mel Gibson's Mayan massacre movie Apocalypto (also a Globe nominee), is eligible only for Best Picture. The other Globe runners-up — The Lives of Others from Germany, Pan's Labyrinth from Mexico and Volver from Spain — would all be honorable choices for the foreign Oscar.

What little film? Which ignored country? For most moviegoers and award-show fans, we're already neck-deep in arcana. That's why the Oscars are now almost a post-coital event in movie industry self-congratulation. In the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, there are just too many sciences. Amateur Oscar voters, at parties or in the office pool, are obliged to debate the merits, not to mention the meaning, of such categories as sound, editing and sound editing.

By contrast, the Golden Globes were designed to have the maximum number of stars show up, and thus the maximum number of stargazers tune in. Of the 24 competitive Academy Awards, four go to actors; of the 25 competitive Golden Globes, actors get 14. The star wattage is blinding for folks who care less about Best Live Action Short Subject than how far Cameron Diaz's table is from Justin Timberlake's. (Ten feet, one TV Seymour Hersh reported.) So from the pre-show arrivals, where the celebs emerge from their ostentatiously eco-friendly limos to trod the red carpet and schmooze with microphone-holders from the four or six networks covering the event, to the finale four hours later, viewers can be sure they'll be saying, "Look, there's —!" instead of "Who's that?"

Actually, last night they should have murmured a respectful "Cor blimey," since fully half of the acting prizes went to subjects of Her Royal Majesty. As one of the Brits said of Mirren and Judi Dench, her competition in the Best Actress category, "There are a lot of Dames out there." Mirren snagged two of the awards, for impersonating Elizabeth I (in Elizabeth I) on the small screen and her namesake (in The Queen) on the big one. Sacha Baron Cohen took Best Actor (Musical or Comedy) for Borat, and Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jeremy Irons and Emily Blunt won statuettes in the TV categories.

Why does the Hollywood Foreign Press Association bestow so many awards on the Brits? You might say: because the members are foreign. But no. They love Hollywood glamour, and gleefully toady to it all year, just like native-born journalists. I'd like to think it's because the Anglo actors give more amusingly articulate speeches. They have a 600-year jump on us in using the language, and we've never caught up.

It happens that I've been on the awards circuit lately, not as a recipient, thank you, but as a voting member of the New York Film Critics Circle and a presenter of a National Board of Review scroll. Both had their parties last week. So I've now heard Forest Whitaker stumble and mumble through three acceptances, apparently rendered incoherent by the ordeal of speaking in public — which, I would've thought, was his job. His manager ought to hire Bruce Vilanch to write Whitaker a speech to memorize on Oscar Night. As for Hudson, she choked back tears each time. Well, she's the new star in town, so emotion is forgivable. But, Jennifer dear, you're about to win an Oscar. The Academy may not even bother naming four other nominees in your category. So get a grip and give a speech.

Not all the Americans were struck dumb. America Ferrera, winner for Ugly Betty, gave the most poised speech by a 22-year-old, thanking a couple dozen cohorts without sounding as though she was reading from a phone book. Meryl Streep, winning in the Supporting Actress category for The Devil Wears Prada, got off a nice opening quip: "I think I've worked with everybody in the room." And if Streep didn't take the trouble to memorize her speech, she did at least read a decent one. "Oh, shut up," she seemingly ad-libbed when a few people groaned, "it's not that long."

At times the Brits err on the other side: understatement can shade toward indifference. Mirren was so reasonably sure of taking both awards that, in her first acceptance speech, she didn't bother with the obligatory thank-you to her husband, director Taylor Hackford. She did that the second time. Perhaps Mirren is saving her "A" material for the Oscars. Expect a regal proclamation when she wins on Feb. 25.

Our award for Best Acceptance Speech goes, ex aequo, to two Cambridge grads. Baron Cohen simultaneously raised the bar for gross-out verbal art and the hackles of NBC censors when he said that, in making Borat, "I saw some dark parts of America, an ugly side of America... I refer of course to the anus and testicles of my costar Ken Davitian. Ken, when I was in that scene and I... saw your two wrinkled golden globes on my chin, I thought to myself, I better win a bloody award for this." He then described, in awesome olfactory detail, the nude wrestling scene, while cutaway shots showed the swarthy Davitian blithely guzzling a bottle of wine. Baron Cohen ended with a heartfelt "thank you to every American who has not sued me so far."

But for sheer aplomb, the Golden Globe for best Golden Globe speech has to go to... Hugh Laurie! His comments deserve to be reprinted in near-fullness: "I am speechless. I'm literally without a speech. It seems odd to me that in the weeks leading up to this event, when people are falling over themselves to send you free shoes and free cufflinks and free colonic irrigations for two, nobody offers you a free acceptance speech. It just seems to me to be a gap in the market. I would love to be able to pull out a speech by Dolce & Gabbana."

Laurie thanked his costar Robert Sean Leonard ("I can't remember why. He did give me a reason") and "a truly wonderful crew. I know everyone says they have a wonderful crew, and logically that can't be the case. They can't all be wonderful. Somebody somewhere is working with a crew of drunken thieves. But it's not me. They are truly a wonderful collection of people... and they smell of newly mown grass." He ended by thanking, well, everyone else in the room, the TV audience and the world: "... and of course you! I left you till last."

Charm, wit, grace — clearly, the Motion Picture Academy needs to get Laurie onstage next month. And not just as a presenter but a recipient. A tough challenge, since he's been devoting most of his time to House. But his most recent movie, an indie effort called The Big Empty, might just make him eligible for Supporting Actor. According to the Internet Movie Database, Laurie plays Doctor #5 in "a bittersweet tale of Alice, her vagina and the infinite nature of the tundra."

I can't wait for that acceptance speech. And if Laurie can't give it, maybe Baron Cohen can.