The Globes Atone for the Critics

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Focus Features

Keira Knightley stars in the film based on Ian McEwen's novel, Atonement.

Most of the nation's critics groups announced their year-end awards this past week, and all gave their Best Film prizes to wayward Westerns — No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James and There Will Be Blood — that might be too violent, too slow or just too weird to win large audiences.

Now comes the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, keepers of the Golden Globe Awards, to remind Hollywood that there is a middle way between ornery independent films and the mindless mainstreamers: the period romantic drama. Atonement, from the Ian McEwen novel about a love affair betrayed in posh 1930s England, received seven nominations, more than any other film, in the Globe list made public today. It's still OK, the HFPA said, to have an elevated, old-fashioned cry at the movies.

Like the critics groups, the HFPA top-loaded its lists with end-of-year product — nine of the 12 films released in November or December, including three that haven't opened yet. But the Globers did acknowledge that the people who watch awards shows also go to movies. Two slots were filled by popular films that have grossed about $120 million domestic: American Gangster, nominated in the Best Drama category, and Hairspray, one of the five finalists for Best Comedy or Musical. Atonement, Juno and the all-star Charlie Wilson's War could becomes hits as they open wide this month and next.

The HFPA gets a lot of giggles from "real" critics, who say that the group's membership consists of part-time journalists, full-time cater-waiters and valet parkers. But don't laugh at these representatives of overseas newspapers and magazines. They know how to throw a party. Double the number of nomination slots for movies, from the Motion Picture Academy's quintet to 10 — five dramas and five comedies or musicals. (Indeed, so rich was this year's bounty of films that the voters couldn't even contain their finalists to a list of five; they made room for seven nominees on the drama list.) More important, increase the number of nominated movie stars — sorry, actors — from 20 to 30. And forget citations for cinematographers, sound editors, makeup artists, that crowd. They're the little people; the HFPA wants the Big Stars.

The Golden Globes is part awards ceremony, all party, and the HFPA members have always been smart about nominating the kind of megastar that they need to have access to as interview subjects. So on Jan. 13, 8 p.m. Eastern time on NBC, you're likely to see more celebrities than you can shake an autograph book or a fist at: George Clooney (Michael Clayton), Johnny Deep (Sweeney Todd), Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts (both for Charlie Wilson's War), Jodie Foster (The Brave One) and John Travolta (Hairspray). Angelina Jolie couldn't attract paying customers to A Mighty Heart, but her allure as a good-deed-doing camera magnet is undiminished. She'll be there as a Best Actress nominee. Brad will have to come as Angelina's guest, however; the Pitt bull was snubbed for Jesse James — not to mention the outrage of ignoring Ocean's Thirteen.

Random notes from a Thursday morning quarterback:

• Is Juno this year's Little Miss Sunshine? The superficially spiky, deeply sentimental indie film got nominations for Best Comedy and Best Actress (Ellen Page). Since neither Knocked Up nor Waitress was nominated, Juno has to represent all the 2007 comedies about a woman who gets pregnant without wanting to but brings the thing to term and gets ennobled along the way. (Radical idea for a movie: unmarried heroine has unwanted pregnancy and, like more than a million women every year, gets an abortion, then goes on to live a happy, fulfilled life.)

• The Best Actor awards could go to actual movie stars: Clooney, with his glistening likability and hunkitude, in the Drama category, and Depp, who's even dreamier (and murders and sings), in Comedy-Musical. But we never ignore Daniel Day-Lewis, making only his third film in a decade and, as the oil magnate in There Will Be Blood, giving another of his super-intense, bite-the-head-off-live-rats, I'm-mad-inside-too performances.

• Russell Crowe, excellent in two hits (3:10 to Yuma and Am Gang), was snubbed by the HFPA. Philip Seymour Hoffman got two nominations, for Charlie Wilson and The Savages (my favorite '60s garage band, BTW), but not for the bleaker, in fact bleakest movie, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, which got shut out. Charlie Wilson, which comes out Christmas day, is a true-life kinda comedy about a Texas Congressman who funded the Afghan rebels against the invading Soviets in the 1980s. It's a feel-good war-on-terror movie, and it was cited five times. Pointedly, none of the big Iraq movies in a serioso vein — In the Valley of Elah, Lions for Lambs, Rendition, Redacted, The Kingdom — got even one. Hollywood can now go back to not putting its political conscience on screen, secure in the knowledge that neither the audience nor the critics care.

• All three Charlie Wilson stars got nominated. Which brings to seven the number of nominees playing actual people: Marion Cotillard's Edith Piaf (in La Vie en rose), Casey Affleck's Bob Ford (in The Assassination of...) and Cate Blanchett's Queen Elizabeth (The Golden Age) and Bob Dylan (I'm Not There). Unfortunate omission: Mathieu Amalric in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the much-lauded French film about a magazine editor who suffers a stroke and is able to move only one eye. The Globers also ignored Crowe's real-life cop in Am Gang.

• International oddities: the Iranian-French cartoon bio-pic Persepolis was nominated for Foreign Film but not Animated Feature. And of the five finalists in the foreign-language category, three have already been ruled ineligible for the Motion Picture Academy‚s foreign film Oscar: The Diving Bell (because its director is American), The Kite Runner (Swiss-American director) and Ang Lee's sexy Lust, Caution (not made in Taiwan).

• Neatest trick of the awards season: The HFPA found a way to nominate Clint Eastwood twice in a year when he didn't make a movie. He wrote the score for Grace Is Gone, and the music for the title song, and got nominated for both. Way to fluff up the guest list, guys!