The film grabbed a leading six Golden Globe nominations Tuesday, including best drama, plus directing and screenplay honors for Jason Reitman.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — "Up in the Air" landed at just the right time, emerging as a potential Academy Awards favorite with themes of job loss and economic calamity that offer a heartbreaking yet hilarious reflection of these hard times.
The film grabbed a leading six Golden Globe nominations Tuesday, including best drama, plus directing and screenplay honors for Jason Reitman. George Clooney earned a best dramatic actor slot as a frequent-flyer junkie traveling the country in first-class seats and premium car rentals as he fires the rank-and-file at downsizing companies.
"We just got a little lucky. Jason's been writing this movie for like six or seven years now and it only really came about right at this moment, and he kind of adapted the screenplay to fit the times," said Anna Kendrick, a supporting-actress nominee as a bright young efficiency expert whose innovations threaten the livelihood of Clooney's character. "I think it's a better movie for that."
Kendrick's competition includes "Up in the Air" co-star Vera Farmiga, who earned a supporting-actress honor as Clooney's frequent-flyer dream woman.
Other drama picks were the space fantasy "Avatar," the Iraq War tale "The Hurt Locker," the World War II saga "Inglourious Basterds" and the Harlem teen story "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire."
The musical "Nine" ran second with five nominations, including best musical or comedy and acting slots for Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz and Marion Cotillard.
Also competing for musical or comedy are the romance "(500) Days of Summer," the bachelor-party bash "The Hangover" and two Meryl Streep films, "It's Complicated" and "Julie & Julia."
Hollywood's second biggest film honors after the Academy Awards, the Globes are a key ceremony that sort out the prospects leading up to the Oscar nominations Feb. 2. The 67th annual Globes will be handed out Jan. 17, six days before voting closes for the Oscar nominations.
There will be room for more films this time at the Oscars, whose best-picture category has been doubled from five to 10 nominees. Oscar organizers hope the expanded field will open best-picture honors up to a broader mix of movies.
Three film contenders had two Globe nominations each: Streep, competing against herself for musical or comedy actress in the Julia Child tale "Julie & Julia" and the romance "It's Complicated"; Sandra Bullock, nominated as dramatic actress in the football story "The Blind Side" and musical or comedy actress for the romance "The Proposal"; and Matt Damon as musical or comedy actor for the whistleblower satire "The Informant!" and supporting actor for the South African rugby drama "Invictus."
Among television categories, nominations for drama series went to HBO's "Big Love," Showtime's "Dexter," Fox's "House," AMC's "Mad Men" and HBO's "True Blood."
Musical or comedy series slots went to NBC's "30 Rock," HBO's "Entourage," Fox's "Glee," ABC's "Modern Family" and NBC's "The Office."
"Up in the Air" has had a glowing reception from critics and awards watchers since it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, where Reitman also premiered his two earlier features, "Thank You for Smoking" and "Juno."
Audiences have crowded theaters for the film, which so far has been playing in limited release before it expands nationwide Dec. 23.
Though it has plenty of heavy moments, "Up in the Air" generally had been considered a comedy, and distributor Paramount submitted it for the Globes' musical or comedy categories. The movie's serious side clearly resonated with Hollywood Foreign Press Association members who hand out the Globes, since they designated it as a drama.
The notion of what's a comedy or musical and what's a drama often gets fuzzy. Fox Searchlight submitted the country-music tale "Crazy Heart" as a musical because of its wall-to-wall tunes, yet it wound up nabbing Jeff Bridges a nomination for best dramatic actor.
Robert Downey Jr. scored a nomination for musical or comedy actor in the title role of "Sherlock Holmes," which has a lot of humor but is mainly an action thriller.
"Up in the Air" is based on the novel by Walter Kirn, published in 2001, months before the loose and easy air travel the book depicts was changed forever by security clampdowns after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The novel also came years before the recession. Reitman started working on his big-screen adaptation six years ago, giving it a lighter touch for the flush times back then.
As the economy tanked, the film took on a weightier tone. Reitman incorporated today's prevailing employment insecurity and shot segments with real people who had lost their jobs, their painful remarks and recollections woven throughout the narrative.
Reitman's father — "Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman, who was a producer on "Up in the Air" — said the film reflects not only the financial crisis, but also the way modern times alienate people from personal interaction.
Clooney's Ryan Bingham revels in his solitary traveling life, a master of the angles to build his flyer account toward a lofty but ultimately meaningless goal of 10 million miles. Yet he's a man who has left his human connections on the ground.
"It seems sort of very apt," Ivan Reitman said. "The way we keep isolating ourselves more behind technology, behind getting trapped in a kind of loneliness that seems unique for our times."
Also finding favor were films with war-on-terror themes, which previously had made little impact with audiences, critics or awards voters.
Along with its best-drama nomination, the Iraq story "The Hurt Locker" earned Kathryn Bigelow a directing slot and Mark Boal a screenplay nomination. "Brothers," combining action at home and in Afghanistan, had a best-actor nomination for Tobey Maguire and a song nomination, while the homefront war tale "The Messenger" picked up a supporting-actor honor for Woody Harrelson.
In "Brothers," Maguire plays a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after fighting in Afghanistan.
"I did the movie largely to explore this arena and shed a light on a subject that could use some light shed on it," Maguire said. "We're responsible for this, in its entirety, as a society."
Set among a three-man unit that defuses bombs in Iraq, "The Hurt Locker" helps put the abstractions of the war into real terms for viewers, Bigelow said.
"For those of us who have never been to the front lines or perhaps are never going to go, I think it unpacks it a bit," Bigelow said.
For Bigelow, the Globe attention also has a more personal connection: She's competing for best director against ex-husband James Cameron, nominated for "Avatar."
"Very interesting," Bigelow said. "It's very curious."