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Oscars 2012: The race gets (very!) interesting

Clooney cruises. Viola gets some competition. What the Golden Globe wins — and losses — mean heading into the Academy Awards

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It may be remembered as the night Ricky Gervais turned tame and Meryl Streep dropped the S-bomb, but the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards also managed to spice up this year’s Oscar race. Rather than lavish all its praise on one film, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association shared the love with virtually every major Oscar contender: The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, The Help, and Midnight in Paris.

Coming off its Best Picture victory at the Critics’ Choice Awards, The Artist picked up another three trophies — Best Comedy or Musical, Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for Jean Dujardin, and Best Original Score — at the Jan. 15 show, cementing the silent film (which has grossed only $9 million in limited release) as the film to beat at the Oscars. ”We don’t want to be front-runners,” said the film’s producer, Thomas Langmann, after the win. ”We’ll see what happens at the end, but at the moment we’re having pleasure every day. And we want to appreciate it.” Perhaps that’s why Artist director Michel Hazanavicius didn’t seem to mind losing the directing and writing prizes to Hugo and Midnight in Paris, respectively. ”When Martin Scorsese takes the award, you don’t lose,” he told EW backstage. ”And when Woody Allen takes the other one, you don’t lose either. I’m very happy to lose to these gentlemen. Really.”

Overall, star power ruled at the Globes, as usual. The Iron Lady‘s Meryl Streep bested her close pal Viola Davis for Best Actress in a Drama and used her time on stage to acknowledge her favorite lead-female performances of the year. ”It’s terrible, terrible, terrible,” Streep told EW of beating good friends. ”They all know it’s ridiculous.” (Incidentally, Streep, who had to wing her speech after leaving her eyeglasses at her table, would like us all to know she also meant to give shout-outs to Carey Mulligan, Kirsten Dunst, Olivia Colman, Keira Knightley, Elizabeth Olsen, Anna Paquin, Michelle Yeoh, Charlize Theron, and Vanessa Redgrave.)

While the Best Actress race is now an exciting contest between Critics’ Choice winner Davis and Globe awardees Streep and My Week With Marilyn‘s Michelle Williams (who won Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical), the other three acting contests are looking more and more like done deals. Clooney continued his awards-season dominance by taking home the Best Actor in a Drama trophy for The Descendants — though he had other things on his mind as he entered the ballroom: ”I’m introing the Moneyball clip,” he told EW on the carpet, ”and I can’t wait to get that done, because then I can start drinking.” Maybe that explains his jaw-dropping wisecrack about Michael Fassbender‘s nude scenes in Shame.

Meanwhile, supporting winners Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Octavia Spencer (The Help) each continued their seemingly inevitable journeys toward the Oscars stage. (Spencer’s Help costar Jessica Chastain, a fellow nominee, even bet her $1,000 that Spencer would win the Globe.) Asked after the ceremony about her awards-show sweep, Spencer told EW: ”I did play a maid, you know!”

Looking ahead, the big question now is whether this year’s Best Picture winners can buck the recent trend of winning the Globe only to lose the Oscar. In the last seven years, only Slumdog Millionaire was able to claim both major prizes. ”I think more positively,” said The Artist costar Bérénice Bejo. ”I think we could be the ones to Error: Break shortcode syntax invalid the streak.” We’re inclined to agree.

(Additional reporting by Carrie Bell)