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‘American Hustle’ gains nominations dubbed as comedy by Globes

Sony’s American Hustle, a film about a corruption sting set in the 1970s, racked up seven Golden Globe nominations last week, including best comedy, instantly becoming a top contender this awards season.

That was after the studio submitted the movie as a drama, according to people with knowledge of the situation. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which sponsors the Golden Globes, changed the designation because its nominations panel unanimously saw it as a comedy, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were private.

The switch is part of the annual jockeying that ensures Hollywood’s highest-profile talent gets a shot at a televised acceptance speech in January. As a comedy, Hustle has a better chance to win because it won’t compete with dramas such as 12 Years a Slave, an Oscar favorite, according to researcher GoldDerby.com. While studios gain a greater likelihood of awards from the category swapping, the Golden Globes benefit from having more big stars on the red carpet, in the audience and onstage – even if filmgoers are perplexed.

“I saw American Hustle,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrack Corp. “There are some funny moments, but I would never come out of the theater and tell a friend, ‘You have to see this comedy.’ ”

The movie, a fictional account of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Abscam sting, boasts an ensemble cast led by Christian Bale and Amy Adams, who were nominated for comedic performances.

It’s listed as a drama by researchers at Imdb.com, RottenTomatoes.com and Box Office Mojo, though film trailers depict humorous scenes, including from the character played by Jennifer Lawrence. Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan called it a “screwball farce.”

Charles Sipkins, a spokesman for Sony Pictures Entertainment in Culver City, Calif., declined to comment. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association declined to comment, said Michael Samonte, a publicist with Sunshine Sachs who represents the organization, whose members are entertainment correspondents for overseas publications.

Awards season is important to Hollywood studios because the publicity packs in fans and drives box office sales. This month, theaters are brimming with contenders timed to capitalize on nominations.

Other movies that combine drama with humor also wound up as comedies at the Globes, including the black-and-white Nebraska and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, both from Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures; Inside Llewyn Davis, from CBS Films; and August: Osage County, from Weinstein Co.

In past years, Silver Linings Playbook, 2011’s My Week With Marilyn and The Tourist, an Angelina Jolie thriller released in 2010, also were classified musical-or-comedies.

American Hustle, which opened in limited release over the weekend and gains wider distribution Friday, is poised to cash in with nominations so close to its release, said Phil Contrino, chief analyst for researcher BoxOffice.com. The firm projects $95 million in total U.S. and Canadian ticket sales.

“It’s incredibly valuable publicity,” Contrino said.

Unlike the Oscars, the Golden Globes honor best picture, actor and actress separately for drama and for comedy or musical. While studios choose the category for submissions, the Press Association’s nominating committee can switch them – though only if the panel is unanimous, said a person with knowledge of the process.

Studios don’t complain about category swapping because they can benefit from the publicity, and they strategize over entries too: The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was submitted as a comedy by Paramount, said people familiar with the matter.

“What makes this year so curious is the placement of movies,” said Tom O’Neil, founder of GoldDerby.com. “Many of these films have been chosen for a strategic reason – to win.”

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