The time is upon us for all the good little boys and girls in the film industry to have their hard work rewarded with small preposterous statues at glitzy events. And at such a time it’s worth taking a quick look at the powers that be who throw the lollies around.

Throughout the annual hullabaloo of the American awards season, many ceremonies act as precursors to the Academy Awards — the BAFTA Awards, the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, the National Society of Film Critics Awards, etc — but the Golden Globes have long remained an unofficial warm-up to the big event, Oscar’s pre-eminent poorer cousin.

The results of the Globes, which take place this year on Sunday, have a huge impact on the entertainment industry and are widely considered to play a role in determining who gets what come Oscar time.

This is despite the fact that the organisation that stages them, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), is a small and exclusive group of journos who are generally neither film critics (unlike most film award distributing bodies) or people who work in the film industry (like the organisation behind the Oscars — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).

Currently the HFPA has only 90 active members; by contrast the Academy has more than 6000. Joining the HFPA is nigh on impossible: it accepts only a handful of new members a year and all existing members have the right to veto any new application. Bizarrely, journalists only need to write four articles a year to fulfil membership criteria.

Sharon Waxman, author of Rebels on the Backlot and editor-in-chief of entertainment industry website, has established herself as one of the Golden Globes’ harshest critics. Among other lashings Waxton, in a 2008 opinion piece for the Huffington Post, described the annual ceremony as “a con on the viewing public” and “the entertainment industry’s dirty little secret”.

It is no secret, however, that those who take home a Golden Globe award in January often go on to snag the Academy’s coveted golden statuettes in March. Last year four Globe winners in six of major categories (Best Picture, Best Actor/Supporting Actor, Best Actress/Supporting Actress and Best Director) went on to win an equivalent Academy Award.

It is wishful thinking to assume that Academy members or indeed the voters of any award distributing organisation simply vote for the person or film they believe to be most deserving. Other factors such as public sentiment and the momentum generated in PR campaigns, on which Hollywood studios spend millions, also have an influence, particularly on those whose thoughts are divided (presumably many). So the decisions made by Oscar’s poorer cousin are, in other words, a pretty big deal, even though the organisation behind them is tiny.

Now all that context stuff is out of the way, let’s have a brief look at some of this year’s Golden Globe nominees.

All the films nominated in the most sought-after category (Best Motion Picture — Drama) will almost certainly be nominated for a Best Motion Picture Oscar, especially considering this is the first year the Academy will (controversially) extend the number of Best Picture nominees from five to 10.

They are James Cameron’s Avatar, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Lee Daniels’s Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire and Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air. These titles have been grouped under drama but that’s a bit rich: Avatar is a SCI-FI/fantasy, The Hurt Locker is an action flick (albeit a frighteningly realistic one), Inglourious Basterds is a blend of war/drama/action/Tarantino-gone-berserk and Up in the Air is, by my definition at least, largely a comedy. Up in the Air is the clear favourite to win. However, The Hurt Locker and Precious make more deserving choices.

The directors of each of these films bar one have also been nominated in the Best Director category, with Push’s Lee Daniels replaced by awards season favourite Clint Eastwood (for his Nelson Mandela biopic Invictus). lists the odds very closely between Bigelow ($2.10), Reitman ($3.25) and Cameron ($3.50). My money is literally on Bigelow; her wins from the National Society of Film Critics and the LA Film Critics won’t hurt her chances, and more importantly The Hurt Locker’s compelling study of bomb diffusers and combat soldiers in Iraq is expertly directed.

Best Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical will go to Nine, the new song-and-dance spectacular from Chicago director Rob Marshall. The other nominees are Todd Phillips’s The Hangover, Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer, Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia and Nancy Meyers’s It’s Complicated.

There are no clear favourites for the best dramatic performance categories. Sportsbet lists George Clooney at $2 for Up in the Air and Jeff Bridges at $2.25 for Scott Coopers’s Crazy Heart (about a broken-down country music singer), which seems about right considering the positive buzz Clooney and Bridges have been generating. In 2007 Clooney was nominated for a very similar character/performance as the eponymous protagonist in Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, though this is unlikely to have much impact on voters’ decisions.

Carey Mulligan is the favourite for Best Actress (Lone Scherfig’s An Education) but the gong could easily go to Gabourey Sidibe for her rousing, bittersweet performance as a young and obese downtrodden mother in Precious. If you believe the hype, the historically featherweight body o’ lard known as Sandra Bullock might pull off an unlikely win for her part in The Blind Side, an American football-themed drama yet to secure an Australian release date.

Supporting actor categories are clearer. Christoph Waltz will sure as day win for his brilliant turn as a cool-as-cucumber Nazi in Inglourious Basterds; you’d describe his presence as scene-stealing if he didn’t damn near take the entire film with him.  And it will be an outrage if Mo’Nique, a little-known actor with a background largely in comedy, doesn’t take home a gong for her emotionally pulverising performance as a detestable overbearing mother in Precious. It’s gut-busting, cranked to 11 acting so powerful she will leave audiences feeling physically shaken.

Curiously, debut director Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 has been nominated for Best Screenplay along with The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, It’s Complicated and Up in the Air. It won’t win,  and it shouldn’t have been nominated — from a purely writing perspective the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man screenplay is a superior choice — but it’s nice to see the film get some recognition. Expect it to be nominated for a visual effects Oscar but Avatar, of course, will snap that one up, probably along with Best Cinematography, too.

Will James Cameron take home a Best Director award at either the Golden Globes or the Oscars? While the idea of watching a man’s ego grow large enough to swallow him whole carries a certain kind of deranged appeal, it seems unlikely.