BEVERLY HILLS, Calif (Reuters) - A wide variety of films from heart-rending "Slumdog Millionaire" to tension-filled "Frost/Nixon" shared the spotlight of Golden Globe nominations on Thursday as Hollywood marched toward the Oscars.
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," about a man who ages backward, and "Frost/Nixon," which recounts the interviews of disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon by British journalist David Frost, each earned five nominations including best film drama to lead the nominees.
"It's a really good morning," "Frost/Nixon" director Ron Howard told Reuters. "We need this kind of acknowledgment to cut through the clutter" of numerous holiday films.
"Benjamin Button" and "Frost/Nixon" were joined in the race for best movie drama by "Slumdog Millionaire," about a poor Indian man competing for love and money on a TV game show, and relationship sagas "Revolutionary Road" and "The Reader."
Unlike 2007 when dark dramas like "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" dominated Hollywood's awards season, this year's list of competing movies is notable for entries like the ultimately uplifting "Slumdog."
"Our (lead character) has no hope, no qualifications and yet he has the ferocity and purity of his dreams," said "Slumdog" director Danny Boyle. "He hijacks the game show for reasons of purity and love and that's a great story to tell."
"Doubt," a tale of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, tied "Benjamin Button" and "Frost/Nixon" with five nominations, but was shut out of the race for best film drama.
Also excluded from best film races were "Milk," with Sean Penn playing slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk, and Batman flick "The Dark Knight." "Milk" did, however, earn a nomination for Penn as best actor and "Dark Knight" provided a nomination for the late Heath Ledger in the supporting actor category.
Golden Globe Awards also are handed out for best film musical or comedy and that group of nominees included "Burn After Reading," "Happy-Go-Lucky," "In Bruges," "Mamma Mia!" and director Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."
The Golden Globes, which are voted on by roughly 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and given out on January 11, are often an indicator of Oscar competitors because many of the same films are recognized by both groups.
But this year, none of the Golden Globes' musical or comedy nominees have been picked by pundits as contenders for Oscars, the industry's top honors given out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Moreover, groups such as the New York Film Critics Circle have favored dramas like "Milk."
"The award season is all over the map and no one seems to agree on any one thing," said Pete Hammond, a veteran awards watcher and critic for Web site Hollywood.com. "The Golden Globes bring other movies into the mix like 'The Reader' and 'Revolutionary Road' so that we now have a genuinely wide open race."
Joining Penn in the category for best actor in a film drama were "Benjamin Button" star Brad Pitt, as well as Frank Langella, who plays Nixon in "Frost/Nixon." The final two nominees were Mickey Rourke as an aging sports star in "The Wrestler" and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Revolutionary Road."
"I never take these nominations for granted and feel like this one is just as exciting as all the others," said DiCaprio, a past nominee for "The Departed" and "Blood Diamond."
Best dramatic actresses were his "Revolutionary Road" co-star, Kate Winslet, as well as Meryl Streep for "Doubt," Angelina Jolie in "Changeling," Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married" and Kristin Scott Thomas in French film "I've Loved You So Long." But in a surprise, "Benjamin Button" star Cate Blanchett failed to make the actress list.
Streep and Winslet both earned two nominations with veteran Streep nominated for best actress in a movie musical or comedy for "Mamma Mia!" and Winslet for best supporting actress for "The Reader." Streep became the most nominated performer in Golden Globe history, taking her tally to a record 23 nominations and surpassing Jack Lemmon's 22.
Elsewhere, Ledger's competitors for best supporting actor will be Tom Cruise in a comic performance as a movie studio executive in "Tropic Thunder," as well as Cruise's co-star in that film, Robert Downey, Jr.
Along with Winslet among nominees for supporting actress were Amy Adams and Viola Davis in "Doubt," Penelope Cruz for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and Marisa Tomei in "The Wrestler."
Editing by Jill Serjeant and Bill Trott