By Piya Sinha-Roy
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Reuters) - Four years ago Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais turned his sharp tongue on voters of the awards show, ridiculing them for nominating the poorly reviewed Johnny Depp-Angelina Jolie action thriller "The Tourist."
"I haven't even seen 'The Tourist.' Who has? It must be good because it's nominated," he deadpanned at the 2011 awards, his last as host.
Those kinds of missteps may be a thing of the past for the Globes' organizer, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which has become a more respected arbiter in the Hollywood awards season, which kicks off with Sunday's Globes and ends with the Academy Awards on Feb. 22.
"There was a period a few years ago where it seemed like the best thing for a movie in the Oscar race was to lose at the Golden Globes," said Fandango's chief correspondent and awards expert, Dave Karger.
Take the Coen Brothers thriller "No Country for Old Men" and Kathryn Bigelow's war drama "The Hurt Locker," both of which lost out on the Golden Globes best drama accolade but went on to win the Best Picture Oscar in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
This year, surreal showbiz satire "Birdman" leads the film nominees with seven nods in the comedy/musical film categories while coming-of-age tale "Boyhood" has five nominations in the drama film categories.
Both have been warmly received by critics, who have bestowed numerous awards on them already, and both are hotly tipped as Oscar front-runners when nominations are announced next week.
For the most part, this year's Golden Globe nominees have echoed critical favorites, with "Birdman" star Michael Keaton expected to win for best actor in a comedy/musical, JK Simmons tipped for best supporting actor for "Whiplash," and Patricia Arquette to take best supporting actress for "Boyhood."
'JAW DROPPERS AND UPSETS'
The Golden Globes are voted on by about 90 foreign journalists who are members of the HFPA, with no overlap in the voting bodies of the rest of the major Hollywood awards including the Oscars, which are voted on by members of the film industry.
"The Hollywood Foreign Press is very aware of the fact that they've been a punching bag to some highbrow critics over the years and I think they're conscious of trying to change their perception," Karger said.
In the last three years, Golden Globe winners appear to be extending their success to the Oscars.
"The Globes are famous for jaw droppers and upsets that redefine the Oscar race," said Tom O'Neil, founder of awards tracker Gold Derby.
"Boyhood" could be beaten by civil rights drama "Selma" or World War Two biopic "The Imitation Game," O'Neil said, and Jennifer Aniston could snatch best drama actress for "Cake" from overwhelming favorite Julianne Moore for "Still Alice."
"The Golden Globe is really your Oscar audition if you're in the race," O'Neil said. "If a star gives the performance of their life up there at the podium, that can hand them the Oscar right there."
Both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto delivered stirring speeches when they won best actor and best supporting actor for "Dallas Buyers Club" at the Golden Globes last year that some have said helped lock in their subsequent Oscar wins.
In the television categories, the Golden Globes have earned a reputation as an early taste-maker, this year favoring shows on cable television and online steaming platforms over broadcast stalwarts.
If Netflix's "House of Cards" wins best TV drama and "Orange is the New Black" or Amazon Studios' "Transparent" wins best TV comedy, it would be a "watershed moment," Karger said, defining a new era in television.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Leslie Adler)