Dreamgirls seems the Golden Globe favorite for best musical or comedy

Academy Awards watchers like to turn Hollywood's season of film honors into a showdown between two main contenders.

Monday's Golden Globes could play into that: The winner of the Globes for best drama and best musical or comedy might end up duking it out at the Oscars.

The Globes are one of the few key Hollywood ceremonies that salutes both heavyweight dramas favored at the Oscars and lighter films that often get overlooked in awards season.

That bodes well this year for such powerhouse musical or comedy performances as supporting-acting Globe contenders Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls," who have strong Oscar prospects along with lead dramatic nominees Helen Mirren of "The Queen" and Forest Whitaker of "The Last King of Scotland."

A musical crowd-pleaser, "Dreamgirls" could follow the pattern of 2002's "Chicago," which won the musical or comedy Globe and went on to snatch the best-picture Oscar over such sober stories as "The Hours," "The Pianist" and "Gangs of New York."

"Obviously, we don't want to count anything before it happens, but it has to do with voters voting on the film rather than the category. "Dreamgirls" happens to be a movie for everyone," said Jim Tharp, head of distribution for Paramount, which inherited the musical when it acquired DreamWorks.

Assuming it wins the musical or comedy prize at the Globes, "Dreamgirls" may wind up in an Oscar battle with the mob epic "The Departed," the ensemble tale "Babel" or the palace-crisis saga "The Queen," all nominated for the best-drama Globe.

"Dreamgirls" could be joined in the Oscar race by another audience favorite that was nominated for the musical or comedy Globe, the road-trip comedy "Little Miss Sunshine."

"I think "Dreamgirls" is a lock for an Oscar nomination, and `Little Miss Sunshine' is extremely popular with academy audiences," said Philip Berk, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the Globes.

"Some years, the comedy or musical category is weak, particularly in terms of acting," Berk said. "Lately, it's been a very powerful category."

Two winners of the musical or comedy acting Globes - Reese Witherspoon for "Walk the Line" and Jamie Foxx for "Ray" - went on to receive Oscars in the last two years over their counterparts in the Globe dramatic-acting categories.

Along with prizes from Hollywood trade unions and critics groups, the Globes help sort out the most deserving films from a crowded lineup of awards seekers. Most years, a best-picture winner at the Globes goes on to win the same honor at the Oscars - but not always.

Last year, only two Globe best-picture contenders - drama nominees "Brokeback Mountain" and "Good Night, and Good Luck" - grabbed best-picture nominations at the Oscars. Globe voters did not nominate "Crash," the eventual Oscar champ.

The Globes and Oscars also diverged twoyears ago. "The Aviator" won best drama at the Globes, while Oscar voters crowned "Million Dollar Baby."

That ended an eight-year run in which one of the two top Globe recipients - usually the best-drama winner - went on to earn best-picture at the Oscars, including "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," "Gladiator," "Shakespeare in Love" and "The English Patient."

"Dreamgirls" seems the Globe favorite for best musical or comedy, though a spoiler could be Sacha Baron Cohen's raucous "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."

"Borat" is highly regarded among the roughly 85 members of the foreign press association who vote for the Globes, Berk said.

The best-drama category is especially tough to call, with strong contenders in Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," Stephen Frears' "The Queen" and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel."

The dramatic acting categories seem far more predictable, with Helen Mirren looking like a shoo-in for best actress at both the Globes and Oscars as Britain's besieged monarch Elizabeth II in "The Queen."

Forest Whitaker as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" is a clear front-runner for best actor, though seven-time Oscar runner-up Peter O'Toole is a dark horse as a lecherous old actor in "Venus."

New to the Globes this year is a category for animated films, whose nominees are the talking-auto comedy "Cars," the penguin musical "Happy Feet" and the spooky tale "Monster House."

"I'm so thrilled that the industry is strong enough that we have an award like that," said "Cars" director John Lasseter, whose "Toy Story" pioneered Hollywood's craze for computer-animated movies. "We had 16 animated films released this year, which is remarkable."

Also new to the Globes: American directors purloined two of the five nominations for foreign-language film. Clint Eastwood's Japanese-language war film "Letters From Iwo Jima" and Mel Gibson's Mayan epic "Apocalypto" will compete against Germany's "The Lives of Others," Mexico's "Pan's Labyrinth" and Spain's "Volver."

Eastwood scored a rare feat by picking up two of the Globes' five directing nominations, for "Letters From Iwo Jima" and the World War II companion film "Flags of Our Fathers."

Leonardo DiCaprio did the same for best dramatic actor with nominations as an undercover cop in "The Departed" and a fortune-seeker in the African adventure "Blood Diamond," the AP reports.

"It's a pretty fantastic feeling. I must say I'm pretty humbled and honored by it all," said DiCaprio, who was coy about whether Oscar nominations would follow. "It would be a great feeling. It really would. It's one of those things, and I keep saying it but it's the truth, I have no control over it. It's not at all in my hands."

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