LOS ANGELES – Hollywood has a term for the celebrity hoopla that precedes its big parties, such as the Academy Awards and Golden Globes. On the red carpet heading in, it's known as "arrivals."
Monday's 63rd annual Globes usher in an awards season heavy on stars new to the game, young actors in breakout roles and veterans who have finally arrived.
Sure, the lineup includes plenty of perennials such as past Oscar winners or nominees Russell Crowe, Gwyneth Paltrow, Shirley MacLaine, Charlize Theron, Johnny Depp, Frances McDormand, Judi Dench and Laura Linney.
But among the front-runners are dual-nominee Felicity Huffman, respected character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and rising star Heath Ledger. Other old hands and fresh faces catching their first serious awards attention include Ziyi Zhang, Keira Knightley, Terrence Howard, David Strathairn, Matt Dillon, Cillian Murphy, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams.
It's even turned out to be a breakout year of sorts for an actor as big as George Clooney, a past Globe winner for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and a three-time TV nominee for "ER."
Along with a supporting-actor nomination for the oil-industry thriller "Syriana," Clooney earned a best-director nomination for his Edward R. Murrow tale "Good Night, and Good Luck," competing alongside such veteran filmmakers as Steven Spielberg ("Munich"), Woody Allen ("Match Point"), Peter Jackson ("King Kong") and Ang Lee ("Brokeback Mountain").
For Clooney, who previously directed "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," the move into directing is a means to extend his longevity in Hollywood.
"You only get a certain amount of time ... in front of the camera before people go, `Enough,'" Clooney said. "So you want to get to the point where you can write and direct and produce so you can still remain productive when people get sick of seeing you.
"I've done two films and had to act in both to the get the financing. The next time, I sure would like to not be in it. It is the only part of directing I don't really like, to direct myself."
Along with "Good Night, and Good Luck," Globe nominees for best drama are "Brokeback Mountain," "The Constant Gardener," "A History of Violence" and "Match Point." Nominated for best movie musical or comedy are "Mrs. Henderson Presents," "Pride & Prejudice," "The Producers," "The Squid and the Whale" and "Walk the Line."
The Globes also may signal the arrival of more tolerant times toward gay-themed films. The cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain," starring Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as sheepherders who share a summer of love then conceal an ongoing affair from their wives, leads the field with seven nominations and has emerged as a potential best-picture favorite both for the Globes and the Oscars, whose nominations come out Jan. 31.
The affair in "Brokeback Mountain" begins in the 1960s, a time when society would more likely frown on a gay romance, especially between modern cowboys expected to be rugged, manly and straight.
"I think it's easier today, even though it still can be impossible in some places," director Lee said. "I think we're moving toward a more open-minded world, more tolerant. But still, it can be difficult."
Ledger, nominated for best actor in a drama, proved he was far more than just a hunky young leading man with a powerful performance as a man torn between the machismo society expects of him and the longings of his heart. Williams, up for supporting actress as Ledger's wife, showed striking depth as an anguished woman who chooses to ignore her husband's forbidden love to hold her family together.
Along with Ledger, Hoffman is considered a front-runner for best dramatic actor for his remarkable embodiment of Truman Capote, the gay raconteur whose gradual emotional deterioration is chronicled in "Capote," the story of the author's obsessive exertions to research and write the true-crime novel "In Cold Blood."
Huffman, an Emmy winner for "Desperate Housewives," could come away with two Golden Globes. She is nominated for best actress in a TV comedy or musical, along with "Desperate Housewives" co-stars Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher and Eva Longoria, and Huffman also is up for best actress in a film drama for "Transamerica," in which she plays a man preparing for surgery to become a woman.
It was the first time Huffman had ever been offered a lead role or even a significant part in a film, after years of toiling as a respected stage and television actress.
Did it bother Huffman that she was considered someone who could credibly pose as a man?
"I've been asked that question before, and to tell you the truth, it does nothing. I go, `Great,'" Huffman said. "I've never been a beauty. It's not my thing. I mean, my face is fine, you know? So I really didn't have anything to lose or to risk, and I sort of know what I look like, and yeah, I think I can look very androgynous."
The Globes are known as a loose, relaxed awards show compared to the staid Oscars, a place where stars can cut loose a bit, have fun and realize that win or lose, life goes on.
"The truth is, I'm pretty levelheaded about stuff," Clooney said. "I won a Golden Globe once. It's an amazingly fun night, you get drunk, everybody calls you, you get flowers. A couple of days later, it sits on a shelf and you go back to work."