The Golden Globe nominees are out. Let the awards season of Barbenheimer begin – Analysis

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NEW YORK (AP) — Early honors in Hollywood's unfurling awards season have gone to films like Celine Song's tender relationship drama “Past Lives," Jonathan Glazer's piercing Holocaust film “The Zone of Interest” and Martin Scorsese's sprawling Osage murders epic “Killers of the Flower Moon."

But a showdown was always brewing.

“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” those summer sensations united in release date if little else, have loomed as perhaps the most potent Oscar contenders of the year. When the Golden Globes on Monday announced picks for its 81st awards, the scandal-plagued, comeback-seeking Globes put their full weight behind the twin phenomena of the movie year.

Greta Gerwig's “Barbie” landed nine nominations, tied for second-most in Globes history. (Only Bob Fosse's “Cabaret” has matched it and Robert Altman's “Nashville” exceeded it.) Its edge over “Oppenheimer” was slight; Christopher Nolan's massive J. Robert Oppenheimer biopic took in eight nominations.

Though the Globes will separate the competition in some categories, keeping “Barbie” in comedy and “Oppenheimer” in drama, the two films will go head-to-head in many key races. Gerwig or Nolan for best director? Ryan Gosling or Robert Downey Jr. for best supporting actor?

Each has their own captivating narratives. Nolan, seen by many as the most talented big-screen artist of his generation, has never won the Oscar for directing, and his films have never won best picture. Gerwig and “Barbie” are at the forefront of a sea change in a long male-dominated Hollywood. Each film managed to do something spectacularly original in a movie industry where sequels and reboots reign — while making a combined $2.4 billion in the process.

These debates will surely continue until the Academy Awards on March 10. But the Globes on Monday made it clear: Barbenheimer, phase two, has begun.

The central presence of those two films will surely help the Globes, which are seeking stability after years of turmoil. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which was known for some wacky nominations in years past (remember “Salmon Fishing in Yemen”?), has been disbanded.

A new voting body of about 300, more than three times the size of the HFPA, picked this year's nominees. After The Los Angeles Times reported the press association had no Black members, Hollywood boycotted, the 2022 awards weren't broadcast and now the newly for-profit Globes owned by Dick Clark Productions and Eldridge Industries have set up shop at CBS after decades at NBC. (The ceremony is Jan. 7.)

Many questions remain. No host has yet been named, just a litany of reported passes from A-listers. But by the low-bar of Globes respectability, Monday's nominations didn't do anything to bring further scorn. The reception was much as it always was: some low-key celebration from nominees and gentle mockery for an awards show with a checkered history.

The Globes expanded their categories from five to six nominees, which meant far fewer snubs than there might have been. Still, the morning's most surprising omission was “The Color Purple,” Blitz Bazawule's Oprah-produced show-stopping musical, which was left out of the best comedy or musical category. (Stars Fantasia Barrino and Danielle Brooks were nevertheless each nominated.)

Films like “The Color Purple” that have not yet opened widely in theaters generally had a tough time. Michael Mann's “Ferrari” and Ava DuVernay's “Origin” were both shut out.

Instead, the Globes closely followed the buzz. That included making room for Time Magazine's Person of the Year, Taylor Swift, in the new cinematic and box office achievement award. (To be eligible, a film must have grossed $150 million, including $100 million in the U.S., or been a hit on streaming.) “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” passed that mark, giving the Globes a chance to substantially boost the star power of its broadcast with Swift, a pop star with growing moviemaking ambitions.

That new award follows similar efforts by the Academy Awards, which in 2018 proposed a “popular film” award that prompted an immediate backlash from academy members that torpedoed it. Both broadcasts have seen ratings dwindle in recent years, and strived to get box-office hits into the show. Last year's Globes were watched by just 6.3 million.

This year, though, the Globes and the Oscars probably don't need to tweak anything to get blockbusters into the mix. While a number of acclaimed films have entered the fray — among them “Killers of the Flower Moon” (7 nominations), Yorgos Lanthimos' warped fantasy “Poor Things" (7 nominations), “Past Lives” (5 nominations), Alexander Payne's “The Holdovers” (3 nominations) — nothing has emerged as clear favorite over “Barbie” or “Oppenheimer.”

Their road ultimately to best picture at the Oscars may not be as smooth as it currently seems. Not since Ben Affleck's “Argo” (2012) has a best picture winner grossed more than $100 million domestically. In recent years, so-called saviors of cinemas like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” have fizzled as contenders for Hollywood's top award, while smaller, independently produced films like “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “CODA” have triumphed.

But Monday's nominations suggested, this year, “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” are the movies to beat. Pick your color palette now.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP