The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 14, 2014

What do the Globes tell us about the Oscars?

In the wake of Sunday's Golden Globes, some questions linger, most of them having to do with the Oscars: Does Matthew McConaughey's win for best actor in "Dallas Buyers Club" knock Robert Redford out of the running? (Say it ain't so!)

Does Leonardo DiCaprio's acting win in the comedy category for "The Wolf of Wall Street" indicate that Martin Scorsese's bilious financial-scam flick might find more purchase with Academy voters than previously assumed?

The point lies not in the answers to those questions, but in the fact that anyone's asking them at all. Historically, awards season — which kicks off in the fall and chugs along until March and the culminating event of the Oscars — has been the chance for little-movies-that-could to get some "earned awareness" in the form of red carpet photo galleries and she-said-what?! acceptance speeches.

But in recent years, with Hollywood studios focusing more and more on "tent-pole" pictures based on comic books and bestselling young adult novels, little-movies-that-could are increasingly not so little. Rather, they're the kind of midbudget, adult-oriented dramas that, without pre-sold audiences, depend on awards shows for crucial marketing.

With that in mind, Sunday's Globes show was a triumph of spreading the love around to maximize the show's potential for getting tushies into seats. Granted, most filmgoers had already grokked that "Gravity" — whose director Alfonso Cuaron took deserved honors for best director — was must-see viewing last year. And the 1970s period piece "American Hustle" — which took three awards, including best comedy or musical — has found a gratifyingly healthy audience of fans beguiled by its unhinged energy and dreamy, scheme-y protagonists.

But with luck, Spike Jonze's charming speech upon winning best screenplay for his computer-generation rom-com "Her" will inspire more people to seek out that movie's sublime pleasures. And viewers transfixed by "All Is Lost" composer Alex Ebert's messy top-knot may be curious enough to check out that stunning seafaring drama, in which Redford delivers the performance of his career.

I'm still hoping Redford makes the short list when Oscar nominations are announced Thursday. He not only deserves to be nominated, he deserves to win — even in a year crammed with superb lead-actor performances. As for shoo-ins — it looks like Jared Leto has it in the bag for his sensitive portrayal of a transgendered AIDS patient in "Dallas Buyers Club" and Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine") might as well clear her mantel now. Still, I'm skeptical that the Academy will reward Jennifer Lawrence two years in a row. (I'm rooting for Lupita Nyong'o of "12 Years a Slave" in the supporting actress category.)

The lovable, larky "American Hustle" is clearly at the forefront of the Oscar hunt, its infectious brio leading observers to call it this year's "Argo." But the sheer technical chops of "Gravity" and the artistry and historical import of "12 Years a Slave," which won best drama Sunday, clearly make them potent Best Picture contenders.

Going into the Oscar race, there are few sure things, which makes it fun — and, more crucially, makes it necessary for more amateur prognosticators to see 2013's plethora of smart, superbly made, spectacularly entertaining movies.

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