LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - When an athlete's fortunes turn abruptly, sports journalists like to say he or she has been Pipped, a reference to 1920s New York Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp, who was replaced one day by an upstart named Lou Gehrig. Gehrig went on to play more than 2,000 consecutive games and become an icon; Pipp never got his job back.
Through the years, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has endured more heat than a short-order cook for some of its Golden Globe choices, with some saying a victory has little bearing on the Oscars. For all the criticism, though, the Globes have been known to Pipp an established candidate and change the direction of the Oscar race.
Most Oscar nomination ballots will have been turned in before the Globes announce their winners Sunday (the official Oscar deadline is Monday), but a well-placed win or pitch-perfect speech at the Globes can swing voters.
"A lot of people have a jaundiced view of the HFPA," one awards consultant said. "Yet the Academy's members are in a similar demographic as the HFPA and have a lot of the same tastes." Translation: Academy members are more susceptible to a Globe win than you might think. A Pipping is rare, but when it happens, it is a notable event.
"Saving Private Ryan" was considered a shoo-in for the best picture Oscar at the 1999 ceremony but was Pipped when "Shakespeare in Love" landed the Globe for best comedy or musical ("Ryan" won best drama), emboldening producer Harvey Weinstein to push "Shakespeare" and culminating in a best picture Oscar.
In January 1992, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis were Pipped at the Globes when, despite buzz for their turns in "Thelma & Louise," a long shot -- Jodie Foster in "The Silence of the Lambs" -- won, then wrested the best actress Oscar from them as well.
As presenters take the stage Sunday at the Beverly Hilton, the question will be: Who's playing Wally Pipp, and who's playing Lou Gehrig?
On the actor side, favorites Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke could get Pipped. Rourke's odds with the HFPA are good because getting him onstage could lead to ratings-friendly outrageousness. But the HFPA could stir things up by choosing Frank Langella, thrusting the "Frost/Nixon" star into the front-runner spot.
Heath Ledger, meanwhile, has been considered such a lock for supporting actor that, to hear some tell it, the other four slots might not even be filled by the Academy. It's likely the HFPA will honor his performance and seize the opportunity for a tribute, but if enough members decide Tom Cruise or Robert Downey Jr. is the way to go, those other four Oscar slots suddenly look very important.
The lead actresses have their own subplot. Anne Hathaway and Kate Winslet have been Oscar favorites for months, but waiting in the wings is Sally Hawkins, whose chirpy Brit in "Happy-Go-Lucky" likely will get her the Globe for best actress in a comedy or musical and could propel her to an Oscar run.
The biggest Pipping, though, could happen in the motion picture drama race with the season's most talked-about front-runner, "Slumdog Millionaire." Danny Boyle's movie has avoided backlash for nearly two months. The sometimes contrarian HFPA could be swayed, though, as it has before, by the grand sweep of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" or the gravitas of "Frost/Nixon."
A win for "Slumdog" at the Globes would be essentially ho-hum. A win by another would give the Oscar race its Lou Gehrig.