The Golden Globes have equally good comedy and drama masks this year.
Alongside heavyweight dramas, the category for best musical or comedy at the Globes usually is more of a lark, with nominees rarely emerging with best-picture prospects for Hollywood's top prize, the Academy Awards.
Yet Sunday's musical or comedy contenders make up a strong bunch that could give their best-drama cousins at the Globes a run for their money come Oscar time.
Leading the Globes, to be televised live from the Beverly Hilton Hotel, is the silent film "The Artist," with six nominations. Among them are best musical or comedy, directing and writing honors for Michel Havanavicius, and acting slots for Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo.
With the Oscars choosing up to 10 best-picture contenders when nominations come out Jan. 24, "The Artist" could have some other lighter fare as company there. Globe musical or comedy nominees "Midnight in Paris" and "Bridesmaids" have solid Oscar nomination prospects, along with the weighty dramas academy voters historically prefer.
Most years, the musical or comedy category is filled with nominees that have little or no chance at the Oscars, such as last year's Globe nominees "The Tourist" and "Burlesque." The last time a musical or comedy Globe winner earned the best-picture Oscar was nine years ago, when "Chicago" triumphed at both shows.
This time, the dual categories at the Globes could create an Oscar showdown between the dramatic and musical-comedy winners.
Along with "The Artist," Kristen Wiig's wedding romp "Bridesmaids" and Woody Allen's romantic fantasy "Midnight in Paris," Globe nominees for best musical or comedy are Joseph Gordon-Levitt's cancer tale "50/50" and Michelle Williams' Marilyn Monroe story "My Week with Marilyn."
Besides "The Descendants" and "The Help," best-drama contenders are Martin Scorsese's Paris adventure "Hugo," Clooney's political thriller "The Ides of March," Brad Pitt's sports tale "Moneyball" and Steven Spielberg's World War I epic "War Horse."
Presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of 89 entertainment reporters for overseas outlets, the Globes used to have a strong record predicting the films that would go on to win best-picture at the Oscars. But lately, a best-picture win at the Globes has not translated into victory on Oscar night.
Over the last seven years, only one Globe best-picture winner — 2008's "Slumdog Millionaire" — has gone on to claim the top Oscar trophy. Before that stretch, the Globes had been on an eight-year streak in which one of its two best-picture recipients also won the main prize at the Academy Awards.
Last year, "The Social Network" won best-drama at the Globes and looked like the early Oscar favorite. But momentum later swung to eventual Oscar best-picture winner "The King's Speech." The year before, "Avatar" was named best drama at the Globes, while "The Hurt Locker" took best picture at the Oscars.
The Globes have a better track record predicting who will win Oscars for acting. A year ago, all four actors who won Oscars earned Globes first — lead players Colin Firth for "The King's Speech" and Natalie Portman for "Black Swan" and "The Fighter" supporting stars Christian Bale and Melissa Leo.
This time, "The Help" leads the acting categories with three nominations, for Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain. Along with Clooney, Pitt and Williams, other nominees include Meryl Streep for the Margaret Thatcher story "The Iron Lady," Leonardo DiCaprio for the J. Edgar Hoover biography "J. Edgar," Christopher Plummer for the father-son tale "Beginners" and Glenn Close and Janet McTeer for the Irish drama "Albert Nobbs."
Ricky Gervais, who ruffled feathers with sharp wisecracks aimed at celebrities as well as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, returns as host of the Globes for the third-straight time.
If the caustic comedian decides to again bite the hand that feeds him, a case working its way through federal court might provide some material: the HFPA is fighting for the right to dump longtime Globes broadcaster NBC if it can get a better deal with another network.