The Golden Globes start the Oscar race -- We look at how the nominations helped ''Capote'' and ''Good Night, and Good Luck''

Usually, the avanlanche of pre-Oscar nominations and critics’ awards helps narrow the field for the Academy Awards. But this year’s crop of early prizes has succeeded only in making the list of Oscar contenders even longer. Case in point: Behind Brokeback Mountain, which scored seven nominations from the Golden Globes on Dec. 13, there were 18 films that earned between two and four nods.

The Globes’ split between the comedy/ musical and drama categories (adding up to 10 nominations) is one reason for the congestion. But blame too the increasing number of organizations trying to beat the Oscars and Globes to the punch. Last weekend alone, the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the American Film Institute, and the National Board of Review all released their own top 10 tallies. The result is a cacophony so discordant even front-runners don’t stress when their names aren’t called every time. ”There’s so many lists these days — I can’t keep the logic straight,” says Walk the Line producer Cathy Konrad, whose film was short-listed by the Globes, Broadcast Critics, and NBR, but not the AFI. ”So I didn’t really have a heart attack.”

While there’s now a dead heat between Best Picture candidates as varied as Crash, King Kong, Capote, Match Point, and The Constant Gardener, one slot is certainly reserved for Brokeback, which has all but swept the early awards, winning Best Film laurels from the New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston critics’ organizations as well as topping the lists at the Globes and Broadcast Critics. It’s all heady praise for director Ang Lee. ”I bet some people would like it,” he says, ”but so much in unison, that was a little scary.”

Perhaps the biggest stunner in the Globe nods was the relative snub of Munich, which earned recognition for director Steven Spielberg but was shut out of the Best Picture category, an oversight that could be blamed on Universal not sending out screener DVDs to Globe voters.

For now, the king of the world seems to be George Clooney, who racked up a hat trick of Globe nominations — two for writing and directing Good Night, and Good Luck, and one for his supporting role in Syriana. Had Clooney officially been listed as a producer on Good Night, which also won a Best Drama nod, his personal take would have been four. ”Steven Soderbergh and I both were producers on the film initially,” he says. ”But I didn’t want to see my name on it that much. It seemed egotistical and kind of lame.” Clooney, who has never been to the Oscars, may soon find himself with three invites.