LOS ANGELES – The Golden Globes (search) are the Hollywood awards equivalent of that phrase "famous for being famous" applied to celebrities known more for just being there than doing anything notable.
No one knows just how a small group of foreign entertainment reporters, some with minimal press credentials, managed to create and maintain a ceremony second only to the Academy Awards (search) in prominence among Hollywood film honors.
Yet the all-star lineup at Sunday's 62nd annual Golden Globes will attest to the fact that Tinseltown takes this show seriously, despite the backhanded wisecracks Hollywood types make about the event's legitimacy.
Though chosen by the otherwise obscure Hollywood Foreign Press Association (search), a group of only about 90 people, the Globes have conspicuous air time on NBC and exert influence on the Oscar race.
Globe nominations are the first significant film honors in the awards season, and the outcome Sunday can help solidify a front-runner's Oscar prospects or elevate a dark horse's chances if any surprise winners result.
"You never know. That's the exciting part about watching the Golden Globes and Oscars," said Leonardo DiCaprio (search), a Golden Globe nominee and likely Oscar contender for best actor for the Howard Hughes epic "The Aviator" (search). "Even if a person looks like a lock on winning an award, the Golden Globes and Oscars could be completely different. It's like watching an election."
Other key acting nominees include Jamie Foxx (search) as singer Ray Charles in "Ray" (search); Annette Bening (search) as a slyly vengeful stage diva in "Being Julia" (search); Johnny Depp (search) as "Peter Pan" playwright J.M. Barrie in "Finding Neverland" (search); and Hilary Swank (search) and Morgan Freeman (search) for the boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby (search).
Along with movie awards, the Globes present honors for TV achievement.
The Globes fell on hard times in the early 1980s, when Pia Zadora (search) won an award for her bomb "Butterfly" amid allegations that Globe voters had been entertained at a Las Vegas hotel owned by the actress' husband.
Charges that Globe voters were swayed by gifts and favors turned the awards into a Hollywood joke, and TV networks dropped the show, which ran on cable channels for several years. Globe organizers worked hard to clean up their act, and the ceremony was welcomed back to network TV in 1996.
Critics still look down on the Globes, saying many foreign press association members report only part-time for obscure media outlets and that voters often behave more like star-struck hangers-on than serious journalists.
Lorenzo Soria (search), the press association's president, attributed such criticism to sour grapes over the status the Golden Globes have achieved.
"We take seriously our duty as journalists and spend in inordinate amount of our lives watching movies and watching TV shows," Soria said. "Sometimes I think maybe there is a little bit of jealousy for the success we have had. We're proud of our achievement, and we're accustomed that, once in a while, somebody is going to say something nasty about us. We don't pay any attention to it."
Along with other film honors, the Globes call attention to smaller performances that otherwise might have been overlooked come Oscar time. They also serve as a fairly accurate forecast for how the Oscars will play out.
Five years ago, Swank's Golden Globe win for "Boys Don't Cry" (search) gave her a boost that helped her take home the best-actress Oscar over front-runner Annette Bening, nominated for "American Beauty."
Last year, the Academy Award recipients in all four acting categories — Sean Penn, Charlize Theron, Tim Robbins and Renee Zellweger — won Golden Globes on the way to their Oscar wins.
Unlike other film honors, the Globes recognize two best-picture categories, drama and musical or comedy, turning attention to lighter movies likely to go unnoticed at the Oscars, which favor more serious stories.
The dual categories also give the Globes better odds at predicting the eventual Oscar champ. In nine of the last 10 years, the Oscar best-picture victor also won the Globe for either drama or musical or comedy.
The Globe ceremony also is a place for stars to cut loose a bit. The show has a history of spontaneity that sets it apart from the Oscars or other more reserved awards shows.
One year, Globe winner Ving Rhames (search) called fellow nominee Jack Lemmon (search) onstage and handed him his trophy for best actor in a TV miniseries or movie. Both Christine Lahti, a winner for "Chicago Hope," and Zellweger, a recipient for "Nurse Betty," were in the restroom when their names were announced as Globe winners.
That unpredictability makes for a livelier show for celebrities attending and viewers watching on TV.
"I'm definitely looking forward to it all. I've heard it's just a looser, little more fun environment," said Will Ferrell (search), who is presenting one of the awards at Sunday's ceremony, his first time attending the Globes. "Yeah, I'm definitely looking forward to seeing if I get caught going to the bathroom when it's time for me to present."