Golden Globes launch award season

Workers prepare the red carpet arrivals area the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards, outside the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Hollywood stars will sashay and strut down the red carpet January 16, 2011 for the Golden Globes, kicking off Tinsel Town's annual awards season for the glittering industry's A listers and movie-makers. (AFP)

Hollywood's annual awards season kicks off Sunday as stars and filmmakers gather for the Golden Globes, with British historical drama "The King's Speech" hoping for a boost toward Oscars glory.

Starring Colin Firth as the stuttering King George VI, the movie is nominated in seven categories at the Globes, seen as a key pointer to who will win prizes at the Academy Awards next month.

Facebook blockbuster "The Social Network" is also up for top honors at the show, which gathers the multi-billion-dollar industry's A-listers for their first major gathering of the year in Beverly Hills.

The Globes' organizers, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), suffered a legal blow on the eve of the event when a former publicist launched a lawsuit alleging breach of contract and bribery.

The lawsuit underlines the huge business side of the glitzy awards: a Globe this weekend or an Oscar on February 27 can give a huge shot in the arm for marketing the winners whose acceptance speeches are screened live around the world.

Hosted this year by British comic Ricky Gervais, the Globes are the first major show in a season that includes the Directors Guild awards on January 29 and the Screen Actors Guild gongs the following night.

"The King's Speech," starring Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, is nominated for best picture, director, actor, screenplay, score and supporting actor and actress.

The film was the surprise top nominee when the Globes short-listers were announced last month, having only just opened in the United States and taken a tiny fraction of the box office earnings of "The Social Network."

Some suggest this was a wily move by the Weinstein Company, behind the film, letting it slowly impress critics and audiences with a limited opening rather than others' blockbuster, head-on approach to seeking Oscar glory and fortune.

"The Social Network" is tipped for best picture, director and actor for Jesse Eisenberg's arresting performance as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, as well as best supporting actor and screenplay.

Best actor nominees for the drama category also include James Franco for Danny Boyle's latest movie "127 hours," Ryan Gosling for "Blue Valentine" and Mark Wahlberg for "The Fighter."

In other categories, best director nominations went to Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan"), David Fincher ("The Social Network"), Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech"), Christopher Nolan ("Inception") and David Russell ("The Fighter").

One film's inclusion in the shortlist triggered smirks around Hollywood.

"The Tourist," starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, was critically panned but nominated surprisingly in the comedy or musical category, in what gossips suggested was a blatant bid to gets its A-list stars to attend Sunday.

That kind of surprise nomination underlines the questions raised by those behind the lawsuit filed three days before the show.

Michael Russell, who worked for the Globes' organizers for 17 years, wants at least two million dollars in damages and lost wages, accusing them of running a "payola" scheme, according to the lawsuit.

The 36-page legal document includes allegations that "HFPA members abuse their positions and engage in unethical and potentially unlawful deals and arrangements which amount to a 'payola' scheme."

Industry insiders point to the HFPA's relatively tiny voting body of 81 members, against the Academy Awards' more than 5,700, alleging that the Globes are too open to undue influence by movie companies.

The HFPA dismissed the lawsuit, calling the allegations "completely without merit."

"This is no more than the case of a disgruntled former consulting firm, whose contract was not renewed, attempting to take advantage once again of the Globe's international stage for their own gain," it said in a statement.
 

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