Think of this year's Golden Globes as the semi-finals of the Academy Awards' Best Picture race. For the first time this year, the Oscars will have 10 Best Picture nominees, just like the Globes always do. So the winner of the Globes' drama race and the Globe's comedy/musical race could be facing off against each other as finalists at the Oscars.

BEST PICTURE - DRAMA
Quentin Tarantino has to be happy with this morning's nomination announcements; he seems to have drop-kicked Clint Eastwood and taken what seemed predestined to be the rugby-minded director's slot in this race. Think of this year's Golden Globes as the semi-finals of the Academy Awards' Best Picture race. For the first time this year, the Oscars will have 10 Best Picture nominees, just like the Globes always do. So the winner of the Globes' drama race and the Globe's comedy/musical race could be facing off against each other as finalists at the Oscars.

BEST PICTURE - DRAMA
Quentin Tarantino has to be happy with this morning's nomination announcements; he seems to have drop-kicked Clint Eastwood and taken what seemed predestined to be the rugby-minded director's slot in this race. Tarantino's fanciful World War II revenge drama 'Inglourious Basterds' landed a slot, while Eastwood's high-minded 'Invictus' did not (even though it did get a Best Director citation for Eastwood and acting nods for lead Morgan Freeman and supporting player Matt Damon). Tarantino has a strong shot here with four nominations, including Best Director and Screenplay for himself and Best Supporting Actor for Christoph Waltz, the near-unanimous choice among critics groups so far for this prize.

Still, the favorite in the race has to be 'Up in the Air,' with six total nominations today, including Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor (George Clooney), and Best Supporting Actress (for both Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga). Close behind are 'The Hurt Locker' and 'Precious,' with three nods each. These three movies have been the Globes and Oscars' front-runners all season long.

'Avatar' actually got more nominations today (four), but two were for James Horner's music. It was nominated for Best Director (James Cameron), but it wasn't nominated for its screenplay or any acting awards. That suggests that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association voters were impressed by Cameron's 3-D special effects wizardry and by his ability to keep breaking the most-expensive-picture-ever record, but not by much else. The inclusion of 'Avatar' and 'Basterds' makes the HFPA look more like populists and less like snooty art-film elitists (unlike the Academy), but this race really belongs to the other three movies, especially 'Up in the Air.'

BEST PICTURE - COMEDY OR MUSICAL
This whole category usually gives the Globe voters a chance to look more populist than the Academy, which tends to disdain comedies. But musical 'Nine' has to be considered both a front-runner in this category - it leads the list with five nominations, including Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Actress (Marion Cotillard), Best Supporting Actress (Penélope Cruz) and Best Song - and its cast of past Oscar winners should make it a top contender at the Academy Awards as well. Similarly, movies as frothy as '(500) Days of Summer,' 'The Hangover,' and 'It's Complicated' wouldn't usually be considered Oscar bait, but this year, they're likely contenders as well.

Surprisingly, 'It's Complicated' has an edge here over the other Meryl Streep comedy 'Julie & Julia' (Globe voters nominated her for Best Actress for both, an anomaly that is against Academy rules and therefore won't be repeated at the Oscars.) 'Complicated' has three nominations ((Best Picture, Actress, and Screenplay) to 'Julie''s two (Picture and Actress), even though 'Julie''s writer/director is three-time Oscar nominee and one-time Globe nominee Nora Ephron, while 'Complicated's writer/director Nancy Meyers is... not.

'Summer' has only two nominations (the other is for Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Best Actor), while 'Hangover' has just one. So this race really belongs to 'Nine.'

Oscar Impact

Will the Academy nominate these same 10 films? There's no rule, after all, that says the Oscars have to pick five dramas and five comedies or musicals. The Oscars still have a chance to go with some critically acclaimed crowd-pleasers the Globes missed (like 'Up' or 'Star Trek') as well as tonier, more traditional Oscar fodder ('An Education,' 'A Serious Man'). On the other hand, the HFPA's snub of 'Invictus' (which hasn't drummed up much enthusiasm from other critics groups either) is probably the last nail in that film's coffin as far as a Best Picture Oscar nod is concerned, whereas 'Inglourious Basterds' now has to be considered a serious candidate for a Best Picture Oscar instead. 'Hurt Locker' and 'Precious' will surely be nominated, but 'Up in the Air' and 'Nine' are now the movies to beat.