We don't write off the musical/comedy races at the Golden Globes, per se, but we're rarely excited about them either. Those are the categories that have nominated "Patch Adams," "Burlesque," and "The Tourist," after all. But even when the nominees aren't quite so dubious, they're usually not the main event; we usually find our top Oscar contenders competing as dramas. Not so this year, when the musical/comedy race is arguably even more crowded than drama. How did that happen?
Sometimes studios try to take advantage of the less crowded category by passing off borderline dramatic films as laffers, and sometimes those placements pay off in nominations ("Hyde Park on Hudson," "My Week with Marilyn") or wins ("The Kids Are All Right"), so if anyone so much as cracks a smile in your movie, the musical/comedy field might be worth a shot. (That, alas, rules out "12 Years a Slave.")
Strategically, a serious Academy Award contender is better off competing as a drama. Over the past 20 years, 10 Best Drama Pictures at the Globes repeated on Oscar night, but several winners of Best Musical/Comedy Picture nonetheless ended up prevailing with academy members: "The Artist," "Chicago" and "Shakespeare in Love."
This year there seems to be an unprecedented glut of these dramedies clogging up the musical/comedy categories, so much that some of them might have been better off as dramas, where there's suddenly a lot of available real estate.
"August: Osage County" is about deep family resentments, drug abuse, and death, but it's also got Meryl Streep delivering catty one-liners at the dinner table. Comedy!
"The Wolf of Wall Street" is about financial-sector sociopaths, kind of like "Goodfellas" crossed with "Wall Street" – both dramas at the Globes – but their behavior is so off-the-wall it tips over into the absurd. I think it's at least as disturbing as it is funny, but then again, Leonardo DiCaprio rolls around high on Quaaludes. Comedy!
"American Hustle" is about a real-life, high-stakes government operation, kind of like "Argo," which won Best Drama Picture last year. "Argo" also had a lot of humor in it, but it had more geopolitical import than "Hustle's" New York/New Jersey-based con game. Also, Bradley Cooper's perm and Christian Bale's comb-over. Comedy!
On top of those you've got the Coen brothers' melancholic folk musical "Inside Llewyn Davis," Spike Jonze's off-beat cyber-romance "Her," and Alexander Payne's quirky "Nebraska." Most of those placements are at least justifiable – except maybe "August," which really is a stretch; the weird part isn't that any one of those films is competing as a comedy, but that all of them are.
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Earlier I had wondered if Sony Pictures Classics made a strategic mistake pushing "Blue Jasmine" as a drama. I think it's a lot funnier than "Hustle," "Wolf," or "August," but now maybe the Woody Allen film can kick back, relax a bit, and enjoy its extra leg room now that a lot of the heavy hitters are battling each other elsewhere.