Nominations for the 66th annual Globes on Thursday will help sort out Oscar prospects in a wide-open field of films and performances, from which front-runners have yet to emerge.
The Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight," once considered a longshot for the top prize because of its superhero trappings, has seen its best-picture chances swell now that studios have unveiled the last of their late-year prestige films.
While some fine films have surfaced, critics and awards watchers sense that "The Dark Knight" can stand with the best of them. Supporting-actor buzz for co-star Heath Ledger, who died the day of Oscar nominations last January, remains as strong as ever, while "Dark Knight" filmmaker Christopher Nolan has a good shot in the directing category.
Other films in the mix include Sean Penn's Harvey Milk biography "Milk"; Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's romantic fantasy "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"; Ron Howard's Richard Nixon drama "Frost/Nixon"; Danny Boyle's poor-boy-makes-good saga "Slumdog Millionaire"; and Clint Eastwood's vigilante tale "Gran Torino."
The acting categories could end up a mix of top-name actors such as Penn, Pitt, Eastwood, Angelina Jolie ("Changeling") and Kate Winslet ("Revolutionary Road," "The Reader"), along with such lesser-known performers as Sally Hawkins ("Happy-Go-Lucky"), Melissa Leo ("Frozen River") and Viola Davis ("Doubt").
The Globe ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 11, 11 days before Oscar nominations.
The glitzy Globes were canceled last year after celebrities said they would boycott the show in honor of a strike by the Writers Guild of America. Winners were announced at a hasty news conference instead.
Hollywood faces labor strife again with a potential strike by the Screen Actors Guild. But a strike-authorization vote early next month would come too late to affect the Globes this time.
The awards are presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of about 85 critics and reporters for overseas outlets.